Heitman wrote suicide note before death, report says

Alexander John Heitman

Alexander John Heitman

Note: This story was last updated at 5:45 p.m.

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…]

Letter: Hensley wants to deny Baughn the right to serve, represent

To the Editor:

I was surprised to hear that Charlie Hensley even has a voice.

That when issues arise and he is not in charge of public discussion of important issues, he tries to silence or sweep things under the carpet.

This is so: That issues have no governing decision to bring the issue into a final end.

That’s like hiring a design firm for a Senior Center, then doing nothing.

The City Council wants everything to be status quo. [Read more…]

Baughn asks for investigation of police chief; Hensley seeks reprimand of Baughn

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

Charlie Hensley

Charlie Hensley

Note: This story was updated at 7:08 p.m.

On one hand is Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn. She’s called for an investigation of the police chief.

On the other is City Council member Charlie Hensley. He wants the seven-member Council to reprimand Baughn.

It’s not clear which side, if either, will prevail during the Monday night meeting of the Oak Ridge City Council.

The two Council members, who have a strained relationship, have dueling resolutions that could be considered on Monday. Either one would require a second from another Council member to be discussed and four votes to be approved.

Both resolutions follow more than one week of accusations and allegations that have roiled and divided the community. They have focused, in particular, on the management of the Oak Ridge Police Department by Chief Jim Akagi and raised questions about the turnover rate and whether it is high. Some of the most blistering criticisms have come from former Oak Ridge Police Chief David Beams, who said he still visits the city. [Read more…]

Akagi responds to criticism from former police chief

James T. Akagi

James T. Akagi

Note: This story was updated at 8:20 p.m. Jan. 31.

Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi on Friday responded to a critical letter written by his predecessor, former Police Chief David Beams, and published in part in two local newspapers and elsewhere online.

Akagi said he was surprised by Beams’ comments and disagreed with them, but he would be willing to sit down with the former chief to discuss his grievances.

In his Wednesday letter, Beams, who retired in March 2011, several months before Akagi started, took issue with what he said was Akagi’s lack of experience as a municipal police chief; his “irrational, erratic, and vindictive” behavior (as reported to Beams by “countless officers and supervisors”); and his relations with the media, among other criticisms. Beams, who no longer lives in Oak Ridge, said Akagi “needs to go.”

Akagi said he was surprised and dismayed by the comments and how they were delivered. [Read more…]

Watson has confidence in police chief, no further investigation planned

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

Note: This story was updated at 8:35 p.m. Jan. 31.

Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson on Thursday said he has “absolute confidence” in Police Chief Jim Akagi and has no plans to further investigate concerns raised this week by City Council member Trina Baughn.

Baughn raised concerns about the turnover rate in the Oak Ridge Police Department and claims made in a grievance filed by former officer Chris Bayless. In a Sunday email, Baughn said her calculations showed that the police force had lost 30 members in 3.5 years under Akagi, and that equates to 11.7 per year, or an estimated 15 percent turnover rate.

Baughn said some officers who have resigned felt “forced out,” while others who remain are “just counting the days” until they can leave.

“I believe that our turnover issues are not a reflection on the character of the majority of our men and women in blue; rather they are attributable to leadership,” Baughn said in an email to Watson and carbon-copied to Oak Ridge City Council members and reporters.

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

She said she is ready to help Watson “immediately address these problems and stabilize our police department.”

But city officials questioned Baughn’s numbers and said they don’t think the turnover rate is significantly out of line with what it has been previously. An average of 7.25 employees per year have left in the last four years due to resignations, retirements, or being asked to leave, Watson said Thursday.

“I don’t think it’s a significant change,” he said. [Read more…]

School Board could make Preschool recommendation tonight

Charlsey Cofer and Oak Ridge City Council and School Board

Principal Charlsey Cofer, left, discusses the Oak Ridge Schools Preschool with Oak Ridge City Council members and City Manager Mark Watson, seated at table, during a Jan. 15 work session with the Oak Ridge Board of Education.

 

Note: This story was last updated at 12:25 p.m.

It’s been on the city’s wish list for decades, but city and school officials now appear closer to finding a solution to repairing or replacing the city’s preschool.

Officials said they’ve “kicked the can down the road” for years, but the discussion gained urgency after lead-based paint was found on the exterior of the 70-year-old building during a routine inspection in the spring of 2014. It could cost up to $150,000 to make repairs. Officials have characterized that as a Band-Aid or “last investment.”

“We’re going to have make a decision now, unfortunately, because of the paint,” said Keys Fillauer, Oak Ridge Board of Education chair. “The bottom line is: How are we going to pay for this?” [Read more…]