A split Great Bend City Council confirmed Mayor Mike Allison’s appointment of Great Bend Police Lt. David Bailey as police chief in a tense meeting Monday night that included verbal sniping between the capacity crowd and the council and amongst the council members themselves.
Bailey, a 40-year veteran of the Great Bend Police Department, was named interim chief last week. It was the Police Chief Interview Committee that recommended his permanent appointment.
“He will do his level best to make the city a great place to live,” Interim City Administrator George Kolb said.
It was Councilman Joel Jackson who moved for the appointment. However, Councilman Brock McPherson asked Jackson to amend his motion by adding a 90-day probationary period, but Jackson refused.
This set the stage for a confrontation that pitted McPherson and Councilman Dana Dawson against the balance of the governing body. The large crowd was made up of many who had supported now-resigned Police Chief Clifton Couch.
“The last election was nothing short of a referendum,” Dawson said. He feels the voters wanted change and new blood on the council and got their wish.
Because of this, he said the new council members and mayor, who will be sworn in, should be making such a key decision. “Why now?” he asked.
Mayor-elect Joe Andrasek and council members-elect Dan Heath from Ward 1, Jolene Biggs from Ward 2, Cory Urban from Ward 3 and Andrew Scott Erb from Ward 4 will take office during special meeting Jan. 8.
Dawson sees this as yet another attempt by the existing officials to continue just what the public wanted changed.
“We need a new police chief,” Mayor Mike Allison said. The committee met with no objections when it was formed and no one questioned its mandate at the time, and just because some may be near the end of their terms, the work of the governing body doesn’t stop.
“Are you serving your wishes or are you serving yourself?” Dawson asked of Allison.
“I have never served myself,” Allison responded.
At this point, there were boos and jeers from the audience. Dawson even got into a heated exchange with Councilwoman Vicki Berryman seated next to him.
The committee included Allison, Berryman and Jackson (both of whom will remain after January), City Attorney Bob Suelter, and department heads Community Coordinator Christina Hayes, City Clerk Shawna Schafer, Public Lands Director Scott Keeler and Public Works Director Charlie Suchy.
The committee decided to look within the department first before looking beyond. McPherson questioned this.
“We had our experience two years ago with an external candidate,” Allison said, referring to n Couch. A confrontation between Couch, now-retired City Administrator Howard Partington and some on the council led to a summer filled with controversy.
“He brought the city a lot of heartache,” Allison said. Besides, Bailey was the second choice when Couch was hired.
These statements brought more comments from those in the crowd. Allison pounded his gavel to quell the uproar.
McPherson and Dawson both said they’ve had numerous calls and personal conversations seeking the delay of the decision. However, Councilwoman Allene Owen said she’s had many asking for his swift appointment.
Kolb said he listened to the input from the committee with an open mind and was comfortable recommending Bailey be picked. “I am very comfortable recommending him.”
McPherson then got into a verbal exchange with Kolb. “I don’t think George should be making those comments,” since he is only an interim administrator.
Members of the committee then began to take the barbs cast by McPherson and Daswon personally. “I feel very insulted,” Keeler said, adding they all felt strongly that Bailey was the right man for the job.
“The community wants change,” Dawson said.
“We are looking at what is best for the community,” Keeler said.
In the end, the appointment passed by a 5-2 vote. Council members Owen, Jackson, Jolene Biggs, Berryman and Cory Zimmerman voted yes, and McPherson and Dawson voted no.
There was applause from the audience after Dana spoke early in the discussion. There was also applause from the city personnel and others when Bailey’s appointment was approved.
“I think our voters spoke,” said Great Bend resident Leslie Barrett who addressed the council prior to the vote on Bailey’s appointment. “They showed up in large numbers.”
With the election of a new mayor and new council members, “It was obvious the town wanted to go in another direction,” she said. Now, she asked the council table the appointment until the new officials were seated.
“I’ve known David for a very long time,” she said of the new chief. But, he would have been an equally qualified candidate in January.
In a related matter, in an appeal to the Great Bend residents who took issue with how city officials handled the Couch controversy, Dawson took to Facebook recently. He was upset with current, and soon to be former, city officials making the selection of Bailey.
He encouraged people to attend the meeting in protest.