Most of those at the Great Bend City Council meeting Monday night don’t know all that has transpired or been said regarding the ongoing controversy involving suspended Police Chief Cliff Couch and the city, retired Great Bend police officer Terry Millard said. “Perhaps we never will.”
But, he told the council, “I am here now in support of Chief Clifton Couch and more importantly, the employees of the Great Bend Police Department.”
This comment drew applause and cheers from the capacity crowd gathered at Great Bend Events Center for the meeting.
Millard was asked to speak on behalf of the local Fraternal Order of Police Chapter. “Other Officers feared that there would be retaliation if they were to voice their feelings,” he said.
His remarks were the last item on the agenda for the regular meeting that had been moved to the center due to the expected large audience.
“When the former chief (Dean Akings) retired, the GBPD was advertised as a ‘progressive department.’ He thought that was new and unusual since the department he knew was far from progressive.
This statement also garnered a response from the crowd.
“But, the city did hire a new, young and energetic chief,” Millard said. “I have met and spoken with Chief Couch numerous times. I have even ‘butted heads’ with him on some personnel issues. I do, still support Chief Couch, as do the majority of Officers at the GBPD.”
Recent events have made a stressful occupation even more stressful, he said. “The rank and file at the GBPD are ready for all this to end.”
Millard addressed a couple of the charges leveled by the now retired City Administrator and some on the council against Couch.
“I have heard that since Chief Couch’s arrival he has created a ‘hostile work environment’ and that there has been a personnel turnover problem since his arrival.”
The turnover problem is something “in the blood” of GBPD.” he said. “You can look all across the Midwest and numerous departments in Kansas and you will find former Great Bend Officers. Great Bend has been known as the ‘training ground’ for the State.”
He estimated that during his 23 years with the department there have probably been more than 200 officers come and go. “That’s probably conservative.”
Prior to his retirement, he was told that there had only been one other officer to retire from the GBPD. “How’s that for turnover?”
Again, the crowd responded in support.
Right now, the department is operating at minimum manning levels, he said. Any deviations from the personnel strength will create additional duty for those remaining.
“This then adds additional stress and fatigue for the employee and their family,” he said. “Possibly due to recent events, the department has been experiencing more problems in hiring, as some applicants are not returning phone calls.”
Why is that? “In any business, organization or government entity, that business’s most valuable asset is its’ employees,” he said.
More applause from those present filled the room.
To survive and function effectively that business must employ, protect and compensate its’ work force. “For the City, this is not just about the Police Department, but for all of its’ employees,” he said.
In reference to the hostile work environment, “I experienced that myself for quite a few years. I was told several times, ‘watch yourself, they’re out to get you.’ I survived those years and the stress of my regular work at some expense to my personal health. Without the support of my wife and family I could not have done it.”
How the meeting ended
After the council adjourned its regular meeting Monday night to the disapproving shouts and jeers from supporters of suspended Police Chief Cliff Couch gathered at the Great Bend Events Center, Bryan Harris stepped to the podium and addressed the restless crowd.
“Now it is time for our meeting,” he said, meeting with cheers and applause from the throng.
“This is business as usual,” he said. “That is why they call it politics.”
He was referring to the council ending its meeting after allowing only one person to speak on the Couch matter, retired police officer Terry Millard.
In fact, there was only one other agenda item that involved the controversy. That was the appointment of City Attorney Bob Suelter as the interim city administrator replacing the recently retired Howard Partington.
Suelter said he is the “interim interim” administrator. The city will work the Kansas League of Municipalities to bring in a temporary administrator to fill in until someone can be hired.
But, that was early in the meeting and Millard was last.
A vocal crowd showed its disapproval for the adjournment.
“Do something about this mess,” someone shouted.
“You can’t handle the truth,” someone else yelled.
The council adjourned on a four-two vote with Allene Owen, Mike Boys, Vicki Berryman a Joel Jackson voted to close the meeting. But Dana Dawson and Brock McPherson voted no, which met with approval from the Couch supporters.
Some in the audience asked out loud why the council didn’t take action on the items that were on the agenda for the special meeting called for last Friday. That meeting never took place because there was no quorum.
On Friday, the council was going to name a new president after the resignation last week of Wayne Henneke and discuss vacancies in key positions. But, only Boys, McPherson and Cory Zimmereman were present, not enough to pass muster.
Jackson had said he would attend, but was unable to. This led the crowd to boo Jackson when he entered the meeting late and voted to adjourn.
“I came to your house after the meeting and banged on your door,” someone said. With cars in the driveway “you were there” and should have been at the meeting.
With these comments, Barton County Sheriff’s Office deputies started to move in just in case they had to control the situation. They never had to intervene.
Finally, the council and Mayor Mike Allison made their way off the stage as more comments and insults were hurled.
That is when Harris came forward. City officials granted permission for the group to use the center for up to a half an hour so city personnel could clear out the hall and not get home too late.
Even as the supporters held their meeting and speakers like Joe Trimmer and Laura Miller urged for calm and for positive action, there were those in the audience shouting them down.
“We all can be leaders in our community,” Miller said. “No more threats. Stay positive and work together.”