Great Bend Police Chief Clifton Couch submitted his resignation Wednesday afternoon, a resignation that is effective Oct. 15. He announced the decision in a statement released Thursday morning. Below is the statement in its entirety:
Statement from Chief Couch Regarding Announcement of Resignation:
Earlier this year, I found it necessary to approach the City Council and express various concerns regarding things I had witnessed and been asked to do in my position as the Chief of Police. Some of these were personnel type issues, while others dealt with ethical issues. Among the more serious of my concerns dealt with the Mayor purposely hampering a race relations board the Police Department is required to have by law, and the fact that the City Administrator was attempting to force me to make officers issue more citations to generate more revenue (which I knew to be an unethical, illegal practice). I felt that I had a moral obligation to make the Council aware of these issues. After hiring an attorney I was finally allowed to meet with the City Council and express my concerns. I requested that an independent investigator be appointed to address these concerns. I also advised the Council that I was willing to repeat my claims under oath and attest to these claims on a “lie detector” test, provided that the Mayor and City Administrator would do the same.
An investigator was never appointed. Instead, about a month later, Mayor Allison called for a special, closed door meeting in which it was decided to suspend me pending termination of my employment. All of the reasons listed for my termination were completely and utterly false. One of the reasons listed was that I had made allegations against the City Administrator. There was no evidence offered to support any of the charges against me. In fact, there was never any investigation into the allegations the Mayor made against me. This was very obviously a blatant act of retaliation for my attempt to address the aforementioned concerns, as well as a way to ensure that my allegations were not investigated.
During my suspension, the community was nothing short of fantastic towards me and my family. I will be forever grateful for the kind words, cards, and numerous other acts of kindness shown towards us. I am also grateful for the handful of Council members who spoke out against my suspension and worked so hard to undo it. I was also fortunate enough to have the support of several council members (Dana Dawson, Corey Zimmerman, and Brock McPherson) who voted against my suspension and worked tirelessly to undo the injustice they witnessed. Eventually, a majority vote of the City Council ended my suspension and expunged all of the spurious accusations against me. I am so very blessed to have seen so many in Great Bend work so hard to undo an injustice. I’ve also been encouraged at the prospect of so many taking such a deep interest in their community and finding ways to be involved in the governance of their city.
However, it has become apparent to me that there will be insurmountable difficulties in continuing my duties as the Chief of Police. The same small group of people that orchestrated my termination in order to silence me is still in positions of power. None of the concerns I addressed to the Council regarding Mayor Allison or Administrator Partington were ever investigated. It has also become obvious that I am being targeted politically, without any regards to truth or moral scruples, and I know that one cannot be an effective Police Chief with a target on his back. As such, I am tendering my resignation, effective October 15, 2017.
When the Council initially informed me that I was being suspended pending termination, I obviously began exploring other career opportunities. One of these organizations has offered me a job. Given the extreme uncertainty and difficulties associated with my current position, I feel that it is in my family’s best interest to accept this position. While my family and I had hoped to call Great Bend “home” for many more years, I do not feel that the current situation makes my position here tenable. I sincerely regret the timing of this decision, but that timing was beyond my control.
I know that many in the community who so valiantly supported me during my suspension will likely be disappointed by this decision. I beg them to understand that this has been (and still is) an extremely traumatic experience for me and my family. After my initial suspension, I refused any discussions of a severance package, as I felt that such an offer was simply hush money that would be given to me in hopes of making the issue disappear from the public eye quietly. I have tried to remain at my post for as long as possible, knowing that it was necessary to ensure that the aforementioned issues were not simply swept under the proverbial rug after I was removed from the situation. I truly love Great Bend, and have suffered through the last several months because of that. Now, however, I feel that I owe it to my family to consider the hardships that this situation has imposed upon them, as well as the realities of the situation that I find myself in.
I also hope that people will understand that I cannot do anything further to reform the City, other than bringing the complaints I originally brought. Structural reforms, audits, internal investigations, and other reform actions are the purview of the Governing Body and the City Administrator. My role as the Chief of Police does not and would not extend into these areas. I’ve done what I can to help bring issues to light within the confines of that role, despite the consequences to me and my family.
I cannot express just how thankful I am for the kindness shown by the citizens here in Great Bend toward me and my family during this situation. This has been a truly heartbreaking decision for us to make, but we feel that it is ultimately a necessary one. I wish so badly that we were never placed in this position in the first place.
I have requested that any left-over money donated to my legal defense fund, after expenses are settled, be donated to charity. I also want to emphasize that I have nothing to hide, and that there is no surreptitious reason for my accepting another position. Anyone who wishes to dig into my past or my conduct at the Great Bend Police Department is welcome to do so. My reasons for leaving all have to do with the need for career security and the well-being of my family.
I sincerely hope that the City will consider enacting legislation providing protection to “whistleblowers” and encouraging accountability in government, so that no other employee will ever have to make the difficult decision that I find myself facing. More importantly, such ordinances and policies would do much to ensure that the government is open, transparent, and accountable to the citizens it is supposed to serve. I would also recommend that the Governing Body appoint an acting chief (who is an actual sworn law enforcement officer) upon my departure, as the Police Department cannot function adequately without clearly defined leadership.
I also hope that the citizens of Great Bend and our neighboring communities will not base their opinion of the City on this one incident. Despite my recent experience, I want to make clear that I believe the vast majority of City employees are valuable, hardworking individuals who work tirelessly for the betterment of our community. I also believe that Great Bend is still a wonderful place with a bright future. While I regret that I will not be able to be a part of that future, I feel that this decision is a necessary one. I wish the City of Great Bend the utmost success moving forward.
This story was updated on Sept. 14 to correct the date of resignation.