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…]

Council OKs review of ORPD turnover, morale; rejects other probes

Oak Ridge City Council Crowd

Many of those in this standing-room-only crowd that spilled out into a lobby Monday night turned out for an Oak Ridge City Council debate on whether to open an investigation into Police Chief Jim Akagi or, alternatively, reprimand City Council member Trina Baughn for the way she’s publicly handled concerns about the Police Department and its chief. In the end, Council approved a third-party review of ORPD turnover but rejected requests for two other probes.

 

Note: This story was last updated at 11:45 a.m.

After hearing from two dozen residents and a few former officers, the Oak Ridge City Council on Monday agreed to conduct an independent third-party review of turnover and morale in the Police Department. But members rejected a proposal to investigate the relationship between the police chief and city manager, and they declined to look into possible violations related to an order of protection issued against the police chief in Blount County in 2012 and dismissed in 2013.

The outcome appeared to generally please all sides, even if the process used to get there didn’t. It seemed to be a largely peaceful resolution to two weeks of divisive community debate and intense public scrutiny.

“I think we’ve taken a step in the right direction for addressing the concerns within the Oak Ridge Police Department,” said City Council member Trina Baughn, who first raised the issue publicly in a January 25 email about the turnover rate and other ORPD issues.

“I think it was a fair outcome, and one that came about as a result of the process working the way it was actually supposed to,” said Tasha Blakney, attorney for Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi, the subject of most of the allegations raised during the past two weeks.

The resolution to conduct an independent third-party review of the ORPD turnover was proposed by City Council member Kelly Callison during a five-hour meeting Monday night. It passed 7-0 after being amended to include a study of morale issues and administrative policies. [Read more…]

Police chief denies wrongdoing, no reason for investigation, attorney says

Tasha Blakney

Tasha Blakney

Note: This story was updated at 10:15 a.m.

Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi denies any wrongdoing related to the concerns publicly raised in the past two weeks about the Police Department and his leadership, attorney Tasha Blakney said.

“The chief denies that he has been engaged in any wrongdoing at all,” said Blakney, who represents the chief. “Based on my review, I don’t see any reason for an investigation.”

But Akagi will respect the decision of the City Council, assuming the proper process is followed, and he will cooperate with the Council’s decision, Blakney said.

“The chief will respond to whatever City Council requires of him,” she said.

The investigation has been requested by Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn. It’s on the agenda for tonight’s meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom. [Read more…]

Two more Council members object to process used by Baughn

Chuck Hope

Chuck Hope

Kelly Callison

Kelly Callison

Two more Oak Ridge City Council members last week expressed regret about the process that was used by fellow Council member Trina Baughn to raise concerns about the Police Department and its chief.

Council members Kelly Callison and Chuck Hope said that Baughn could have first brought the issues regarding the Police Department and Police Chief Jim Akagi to the City Council in a work session or special meeting. That would have allowed all seven Council members to hear the information and work together to determine any next steps, they said.

But instead, Callison said, the issue was sent in parallel to City Council and the media, which bothers him.

“I feel that the process that she’s using is wrong,” Hope said. “It’s kind of circumvented the process. It’s all out there, across the press and across the social media.” [Read more…]

15 percent turnover not necessarily cause for alarm, UT professor says

Terry Leap

Terry Leap

One of the initial concerns raised about the Oak Ridge Police Department last month was whether the turnover rate was high.

Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn said she had calculated a 15 percent annual turnover rate in the 3.5 years that Police Chief Jim Akagi has led the department. That compares to a reported turnover rate of only 2.9 percent for the Knoxville Police Department, Baughn said.

“I’m sure you agree that having a turnover rate five times that of our neighbor demands further scrutiny,” Baughn told City Manager Mark Watson in a January 25 email.

But Oak Ridge municipal officials said they don’t think the turnover rate is significantly out of line with what it has been previously. Watson said an average of 7.25 employees per year have left in the last four years due to resignations, retirements, or being asked to leave.

Last week, a University of Tennessee professor suggested that a 15 percent turnover rate, by itself, might not be a cause for concern. [Read more…]

Former officers ask for investigation, hearing of officers’ concerns

Oak Ridge City Council November 2014

Four former Oak Ridge police officers have asked the City Council to investigate some of the concerns recently raised about the Police Department and its chief, or to hear the concerns of officers. The City Council will consider what to do next during its regular meeting on Monday. Pictured above from right in November 2014 are Kelly Callison, Charlie Hensley, Rick Chinn, Mayor Warren Gooch, Chuck Hope, Trina Baughn, and Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Smith. (File photo)

 

Four former Oak Ridge police officers have asked the City Council to investigate some of the concerns recently raised about the Police Department and its chief, or to hear the concerns of officers.

The officers were responding to recent news reports about the police department and concerns raised about its turnover rate, as well as alleged policy violations included in a mid-January grievance filed by former Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Christopher Bayless. A few also cited letters written to the media by former Police Chief David Beams and former Lieutenant Jack Mansfield.

The officers expressed a range of concerns that include the alleged policy violations by Police Chief Jim Akagi and a Blount County order of protection in effect from April 2012 to June 2013, questions about the turnover rate and the chief’s leadership, and decisions about promotions, spending, and weapons. [Read more…]