It would be a mistake for the Great Bend City Council to reinstate Clifton Couch as chief of police without first conducting the appeal hearing he is entitled to. That hearing needs to take place as soon as possible.
Couch’s recent “public forum” on the Great Bend Tribune’s Opinion Page (Suspended police chief comments on controversy, Aug. 30), recalls that before he was suspended with pay from his duties as chief of police he “made allegations to the City Council of unethical conduct by a few leaders within our local government.”
The purpose of an appeal hearing is not to determine whether or not two city employees engaged in “unethical conduct.” At the hearing, the focus should not be on others, except as it relates to Couch’s performance. A pre-termination hearing should begin by allowing supervisors to provide the evidence that supports a termination. It should also be an opportunity for Couch to be heard prior to the final decision and to present any new information that might cause council members to reconsider their initial decision.
To paraphrase a typical employee relations policy at another institution, the decision to terminate an employee is not something that should be taken lightly. When faced with disciplinary issues that can lead to the loss of employment, it is important that supervisors ask themselves if they have done everything they know to do to help make the employee successful. Did they provide a clear understanding of the duties, responsibilities and expectations of that position? Did they provide adequate training and the resources needed to do the job? Did they give the employee a fair chance to improve the behavior or performance issues to meet the institution’s standards?
If the answer to each question is “yes,” they have made a good-faith effort and the last step is the pre-termination hearing. In our city’s case, council members should make it clear if they do have sufficient evidence to terminate, but they should give Couch a chance to provide relevant information that may reverse the decision.
Council members may want to reverse the decision if they find they cannot answer “yes” to each of the above questions. Certainly, they should do what is fair and what is in the best interest of the city. Are both sides prepared to accept remedies that will solve the grievance?
Couch’s letter is commendable because it attempts to remind his supporters that, “bullying ... has no place in government or politics.” There is no need for unhappy constituents to take up arms for battle, physical or psychological. They should not engage in mob mentality, making threats and spreading false rumors. Another recent letter on the Tribune’s opinion page noted that most of Couch’s supporters have not made this mistake. They have been adamant but polite, even when voicing frustration. Their voices have been heard.
At the appeal hearing, the ones who need to be heard are Couch and those who will decide his fate.