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.
Some city officials and business owners lament the effect that the negative publicity might have on economic development and the recruitment of residents. But others who support Baughn, who kick-started the public discussion, argue that there are legitimate concerns that need to be investigated.
Baughn’s resolution calls for a City Council investigation of certain alleged actions by the police chief as well as his relationship to the city manager. In particular, her resolution would have the Council:
- Investigate alleged policy violations by Akagi, including those made in a grievance filed January 14 by former ORPD Officer Christopher Bayless, letters sent to reporters by Beams and former Lieutenant Jack Mansfield, and emails sent to Council members by someone who appears to be using a pseudonym but writes under the name “Bobby Hill.” (See more about those stories here and here.)
- Investigate the relationship between City Manager Mark Watson and Akagi before they started working in Oak Ridge, and determine whether taxpayer money was unnecessarily paid to a recruiting firm that led the search for a new police chief and whether Akagi was previously employed by Watson’s father in Lawrence, Kansas, as a law enforcement officer. (In an interview last week, Watson acknowledged that the two men have some connections—they graduated from the same high school some seven or eight years apart, Akagi once worked for the Lawrence Police Department, and Watson’s father was once city manager there—but Watson said he and Akagi did not know each other before the police chief applied for the Oak Ridge job. “There’s nothing there,” Watson said. “It’s not an issue.”)
- Investigate whether Akagi violated an order of protection issued in Blount County Circuit Court and in effect from April 11, 2012, to June 19, 2013. The investigation could be used to determine whether Akagi violated a directive to not possess a firearm.
Hensley’s resolution, meanwhile, asks City Council to show its disapproval and officially rebuke Baughn. It wouldn’t have legal weight, but it would serve as a reprimand. It would ask Baughn to “cease premature release of biased and negatively spun information prior to verification and discussion by City Council as a whole.”
In an email to city officials, Hensley said Baughn has released negatively biased information and unverified accusations to the media without consideration, discussion, and deliberation by the Council.
“I feel that City Council should act as a body to address the ongoing issue of Councilwoman Baughn’s use of her Council position as a bully pulpit to publicly harass, demean, and discredit members of Oak Ridge city staff, our schools, and the Board of Education, and for the resulting overall negative impacts on the image, functionality, and desirability of our city,” Hensley said in the email.
In the resolution, he said Council members are supposed to have an equal role in determining the direction of the city government, but Baughn’s actions—including a premature release of “biased,” “one-sided information”—creates a bias among residents before the City Council has been able to officially act. The targeted victims don’t have a chance to respond in a timely manner, said Hensley, who also asked that Baughn be removed from all committee assignments.
The Oak Ridge City Charter allows the City Council to investigate certain activities of city departments, but four members would have to approve the investigation requested by Baughn. If approved, the investigation could include subpoenas, testimony, and the presentation of evidence.
It’s not clear if the City Council has ever initiated this type of investigation before. It’s allowed under Article II, Section 9, of the Oak Ridge City Charter.
On Tuesday, City Attorney Ken Krushenski said he doesn’t recall a investigation of this type since he started in Oak Ridge in 2001.
The meeting on Monday, February 9, starts at 7 p.m. in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom. See the agenda here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.