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City to study management, pay at police department
Decision comes after several closed-door sessions
new deh city council special meeting pic web
Great Bend Mayor Mike Allison, center, and City Council members Dana Dawson, Mike Boys, Wayne Henneke and Joel Jackson take a short break between executive sessions during a special council meeting Thursday night. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

 Following an exhausting string of executive sessions totaling 2 hours and 45 minutes to discuss “personnel issues currently facing the city” Thursday night, the Great Bend City Council emerged and voted to proceed with hiring a law firm to conduct a management and compensation study of the Police Department.

The council directed City Attorney Bob Suelter and Edward Keeley, the Wichita attorney hired by the city, to find a firm to tackle this task.

No further comments were made and no statements were issued. The decision was immediately followed by adjournment.

The action was taken during a special meeting at City Hall called to discuss matters relating to Police Chief Cliff Couch and City Administrator Howard Partington. The only item on the agenda was a one-hour executive session.

However, that stretched into a second hour. And that stretched into another half hour.

Going into the first three executive sessions were: Mayor Mike Allison; City Attorney Bob Suelter; and council members Brock McPherson, Cory Zimmerman, Dana Dawson, Joel Jackson, Vicki Berryman, Wayne Henneke, Allen Owen and Mike Boys. They were joined by City Administrator Howard Partington and Police Chief Cliff Couch. 

There were also two attorneys going into the closed sessions: Edward L. Keeley, an attorney with the Wichita law firm McDonald Tinker, representing the City of Great Bend; and Tom Berscheidt, the Great Bend attorney representing Partington.

However, for the final 15 minutes, it was only the council, Allison, Suelter and Keeley.

Issues between Couch and Partington came to a head during the council’s June 4 meeting when a divided council allowed Couch to speak about staffing shortages and officer turnover in the Police Department. With a vocal, overflow crowd present, the discussion often turned heated.

It is a safety issue, Couch said then, adding he has challenged Partington on how to deal with the problem. He said he had been chastised by Partington for bring up these concerns.

At the end of Couch’s presentation, the council agreed to look at the matter further, but no concrete action was taken.

Legal history

Following an executive session during its June 20 meeting, the city hired Edward L. Keeley, an attorney with the Wichita law firm McDonald Tinker, to provide legal services “as requested, to the Mayor of the City of Great Bend and its City Council.”

Keeley hand-delivered a letter outlining the agreement addressed to Mayor Mike Allison to the council that Monday night, and that is when Allison signed it. Consultations with Keeley started in executive sessions during the council’s Monday night meeting.

However, it was following an executive session at the June 5 council meeting that the council passed a motion to retain the services of McDonald Tinker to assist the city through some employment issues.

It was Couch’s attorney Dennis Keenan who penned the May 20 open letter to members of the council that accused Partington of a pattern of retaliation against Couch, and demanded the council appoint a third-party investigator to look into the allegations. 

However, the Keenan letter was the latest in a series of letters to city officials regarding the Police Department.

On May 24, the Great Bend Tribune reported on letters to Great Bend City Council members and/or city officials from the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter expressing concern over staffing shortages within the Great Bend Police Department, blaming this on salaries that fail to compete with other cities. Members are frustrated with a lack of response, officer morale, and worry about the safety of the community.