ORPD review expanded to include all employees, some former workers

Oak Ridge Police Department Cars

But MTAS will have to agree to changes

The review of the Oak Ridge Police Department has been expanded to include interviews with all employees. The review could also include interviews with former employees who have left the Police Department since Police Chief Jim Akagi started almost four years ago.

Initial plans had called for a limited review of the Oak Ridge Police Department and interviews of a random sample or cross-section of employees.

But the Oak Ridge City Council expanded the review during a special meeting on Tuesday. That special meeting was called after concerns were raised about the initial list of randomly selected interviewees being sent to the police chief, city manager, and all Police Department employees, which raised questions about the impartiality and confidentiality of the review.

By one estimate, the expanded review could include interviews with more than 100 people. And it’s not clear if the Municipal Technical Advisory Service at the University of Tennessee will agree to the expanded review, or if they might charge the city.

The City Council agreed to expand the review during a three-hour special meeting on Tuesday that included criticism of MTAS, accusations of collusion between Council members, and an attempt by Council member Trina Baughn to have resident Joe Lee, one of her chief critics, stop taking pictures during a public comment session. [Read more…]

Council to consider restart on ORPD review during special meeting Tuesday

Oak Ridge City Council on Feb. 9, 2015

The Oak Ridge City Council will have a special meeting on Tuesday, April 21, to consider three recommendations related to the 30-day review of the Oak Ridge Police Department that was approved in March. (File photo)

 

A 30-day review of the Oak Ridge Police Department had barely gotten started before it came under fire. But the Oak Ridge City Council will try to fix that on Tuesday.

The concern centers on a report that the list of ORPD employees randomly selected for the first 20 interviews was sent to Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi and all Police Department employees, raising questions about the impartiality and anonymity of the review. The reviewer, Rex Barton of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service at the University of Tennessee, apparently sent the list to the police chief for scheduling purposes, seeking to minimize overtime and minimize stress on the officers’ off-duty life.

But those who have pressed for an investigation, including Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn, quickly objected when they learned that the list of interviewees had been sent to the police chief, who has been the subject of much of their scrutiny.

So, in a special meeting Tuesday evening, the City Council will ask Barton, an MTAS police management consultant, to create a new, random list of officers to interview. Council will also consider determining a point of contact in the Oak Ridge Police Department who can help coordinate the schedules of officers participating in the interviews. [Read more…]

MTAS: ORPD review to be extensive, but not clear who will be interviewed

Oak Ridge Police Department Review Protest

Protesters who want all officers to be able to speak to a consultant reviewing the Oak Ridge Police Department are pictured above outside the Oak Ridge Municipal Building before the Monday night City Council meeting.

 

Note: This story was last updated at 9:35 a.m. April 20.

The review of the Oak Ridge Police Department will be extensive, but it’s not clear yet who will be interviewed, an official said Friday.

The proposal submitted by the Municipal Technical Advisory Service and approved by the Oak Ridge City Council in March called for interviewing a randomly selected group of police department employees. It also called for interviewing other city employees and officers and possibly talking to community leaders not directly employed by the city.

But some have expressed concern that others who want to speak, including former officers and city residents, might not be able to under the limited 30-day review and random selection proposed by MTAS.

“These men deserve to be heard, all of them,” said Christen Thomas, wife of Oak Ridge Police Department Officer John Thomas.

The independent MTAS review will use Police Management Consultant Rex Barton, a former administrative captain for the Athens, Tennessee, Police Department. MTAS is part of the Institute for Public Service at the University of Tennessee. [Read more…]

Task force to consider changes to Secret City Festival

Secret City Festival Kix Brooks June 2014

Country music artist Kix Brooks, who was part of the country duo Brooks and Dunn, performs during the 2014 Secret City Festival. (Photo by Rob Welton)

 

A new task force is scheduled to discuss potential changes to the Secret City Festival on Thursday, including shifting the annual festival to small events from mid-October to November 11 (Veterans Day), creating a nonprofit organization to run the festival (and possibly other special events), and voting on changing the date of the festival and whether it should be a one- or two-day event.

The new task force will also discuss unique opportunities for a festival theme and could develop a list of potential entertainment venues to be used throughout the city for the festival, consider other potential festival dates, and develop a list of potential partners.

The meeting of the Special Events Advisory Task Force starts at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 23, in the Oak Ridge Recreation Center’s Craft Room at 1402 Oak Ridge Turnpike. [Read more…]

Council approves ORHS stoplight contract in 4-3 vote

Oak Ridge Turnpike Stoplight at Oak Ridge High School

In a 4-3 vote Monday, the Oak Ridge City Council approved a contract to install a traffic signal at the Oak Ridge High School on Oak Ridge Turnpike.

 

Note: This story was updated at 8:42 a.m. April 15.

The City Council approved a contract to install a stoplight on Oak Ridge Turnpike in front of Oak Ridge High School in a 4-3 vote on Monday.

Public Works Director Gary Cinder said the light will be green most of the time on Oak Ridge Turnpike. But it will turn red when cars are leaving the High School, giving those drivers a green light.

And the traffic signal lights will turn all-red when pedestrians are crossing, Cinder said. [Read more…]

Council rejects ORPD investigation proposals, approves MTAS review

Oak Ridge City Council on Feb. 9, 2015

On Friday, March 27, the Oak Ridge City Council agreed to use the Municipal Technical Advisory Service at the University of Tennessee to conduct a 30-day review of turnover, morale, and administrative policies in the Oak Ridge Police Department. (File photo)

 

Note: This story was last updated at 12:30 p.m. March 30.

Despite calls for an investigation, the Oak Ridge City Council on Friday approved a proposal from a University of Tennessee agency to review—rather than investigate—the Oak Ridge Police Department, focusing on turnover, morale, and administrative policies.

A series of motions by City Council member Trina Baughn, who has pushed hardest for an investigation of the ORPD and its police chief, were rejected. Among other things, Baughn’s proposals would have required all Police Department employees to spend at least 10 minutes with the investigator, regardless of whether they wanted to say anything; sought to interview all former workers who have left since May 2011, when Police Chief Jim Akagi was hired; given those interviewed a chance to participate in a “no confidence” vote against the chief; and look into Akagi’s previous history, including his prior employment with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Council also rejected a motion by Baughn to investigate the allegations included in a grievance filed by a former police officer and claims made in letters by former officers.

The 30-day review that was approved Friday was first proposed as a general concept by Oak Ridge City Council member Kelly Callison during a February meeting, with more detail added since then.

[Read more…]

Council to consider reviewing, investigating ORPD in special meeting Friday

Oak Ridge City Council on Feb. 9, 2015

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday, Feb. 9, agreed to a third-party review of turnover and morale in the Oak Ridge Police Department but rejected requests for two other probes. On Friday, March 27, the Council could consider reviewing or investigating the ORPD—there has been a dispute over which term to use—placing the police chief on administrative leave, or accepting a proposal from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service to conduct a 30-day review. (File photo)

 

The Oak Ridge City Council will consider whether to review or investigate the Oak Ridge Police Department during a special meeting on Friday, March 27. The Council will also consider whether to place the police chief on administrative leave during the investigation, if one is conducted.

City Council members Trina Baughn and Rick Chinn called for the special meeting earlier this month, and it was set for this Friday, March 27. Baughn and Chinn asked to set the parameters of an investigation and possibly select an investigator during the special meeting. They also asked to discuss and possibly vote on placing the police chief on administrative leave during the investigation.

Once it became clear that the special meeting would be called, Council members Ellen Smith and Charlie Hensley asked to consider selecting a reviewer to conduct the police review, as opposed to an investigation, approved in February. [Read more…]

City Council schedules special meeting for ORPD review, investigation

Oak Ridge City Council on Feb. 9, 2015

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday, Feb. 9, agreed to a third-party review of turnover and morale in the Oak Ridge Police Department but rejected requests for two other probes. On Monday, March 9, the Council did not consider a proposal from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service to conduct the 30-day review, but members did call for a special meeting on Friday, March 27, to consider a review or investigation. (File photo)

 

Note: This story was last updated at 8:20 p.m.

Despite concerns about the timing, the Oak Ridge City Council later this month will consider steps that could be used to help review or investigate—there has been a dispute over which word to use—the turnover, morale, and administrative policies in the Oak Ridge Police Department.

City Council members Trina Baughn and Rick Chinn requested the special meeting, and they asked that it be held at 6 p.m. Friday, March 27. They said the meeting could be used to discuss and vote on the parameters of an investigation and possibly select an investigator. The two members also want the Council to consider the merits, and possibly vote on, placing Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi on administrative leave while the investigation is ongoing.

Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch expressed concern about having the special meeting that week because officials from the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Energy are expected to be in town. Gooch, who would prefer to discuss the issues in a regular meeting, said he thought it would be a mistake to have a special meeting like this that could interfere with the visit by NPS and DOE officials. [Read more…]

Council postpones vote on Turnpike stoplight at ORHS

Oak Ridge Turnpike and High School Stoplight

Note: This story was updated at 10:20 a.m. March 10.

The Oak Ridge City Council has postponed a vote on a contract to install a stoplight at the Oak Ridge Turnpike in front of Oak Ridge High School. The light could eliminate the need for a crossing guard.

City officials had said the light could be installed by August 2015, but the postponement of the contract vote to the April meeting will likely delay the completion date, possibly until after school starts later this year.

The installation could cost roughly $177,000. It would be paid for using unspent money from the Special Programs Fund, the fund set up for traffic, pedestrian, and bicycle safety projects using money from the traffic cameras that were removed last year. [Read more…]

Council considers ORPD review proposal, ORHS stoplight, amendment for Main Street project

Oak Ridge City Council on Feb. 9, 2015

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday, Feb. 9, agreed to a third-party review of turnover and morale in the Oak Ridge Police Department but rejected requests for two other probes. On Monday, March 9, the Council will consider a proposal from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service to conduct the review, which will also include administrative policies. (File photo)

 

Note: This story was updated at 1:10 p.m.

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday night will consider a proposal to use the Municipal Technical Advisory Service to review turnover, morale, and administrative policies in the Oak Ridge Police Department.

The Council will also consider a contract to install a stoplight on Oak Ridge Turnpike in front of the Oak Ridge High School.

Also on tonight’s agenda is a resolution to appoint members of a joint city-school committee that will study options for repairing, replacing, or moving the Oak Ridge Preschool.

And Council members will consider a zoning ordinance amendment that could help the Main Street Oak Ridge project, which will redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall. [Read more…]

Heitman wrote suicide note before death, report says

Alexander John Heitman

Alexander John Heitman

Note: This story was last updated at 2:08 a.m. Feb. 28.

The cause of his death has been questioned for months, but information released Friday said a former Oak Ridge Schools employee found dead in Cocke County in July 2011 wrote a suicide note the day before he died.

Alex Heitman, 29, was the supervisor of business and support services for Oak Ridge Schools. Cocke County authorities said he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head on July 25, 2011. The death was ruled a suicide.

But Heitman’s parents, Don and Annette Heitman, have been questioning since at least October 2013 whether their son’s death, which they call mysterious, was actually a suicide. They’ve been supported by a few residents and former residents and Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn.

On Monday, a television station in Madison, Wisconsin, broadcast a story on Heitman’s death and his parent’s quest to find answers. In that story, Don Heitman said “we just don’t have the answers to prove that it was (suicide).” In that same story, Baughn said the information collected so far “points to something much bigger than a suicide.”

But Heitman’s widow, Kristie Heitman, told the TV station that she believes her late husband committed suicide, and she found what appears to be a suicide note on his computer after he died. [Read more…]

Letter: Praises Baughn, says City Council needs more like her

To the Editor:

I would like to commend the outstanding job that Trina Baughn is doing on City Council. Of all the members of City Council, she is the most knowledgeable about the city’s massive and rising $186.4 million debt. Trina Baughn understands the history of how this debt was accumulated; she also has developed a strategic plan to help the taxpayers resolve this debt.

While Oak Ridge slipped deeper into debt, past City Councils have wasted and squandered taxpayer funds on law firms in Washington, D.C., to lobby for more money for Oak Ridge’s government facilities, as if lobbying rather than the qualifications of local scientists could swing federal funding to Oak Ridge. The taxpayers derived zero benefit from those lobbyist payments or the largesse City Council has bestowed on the Chamber of Commerce over the years. [Read more…]