The Kempner City Council will decide next week whether the city needs its two volunteer, unpaid officers, a city official said on Tuesday, which could further dwindle the police force after two police officers were laid off last week.
The mayor said the volunteer officers are “under discussion” and the issue will be on the agenda at the next council meeting on May 22.
The city council voted on May 8 to lay off two of its four officers, effectively cutting the police force in half. The vote was not unanimous, with Place 1 Councilman Clifton Morse casting the one no vote. All other members were present.
“Our city has not grown much,” said Mayor Carolyn Crane on Tuesday. “We still have 2 square miles and we had two officers for some time when I became mayor in 2015.”
In October 2017 the council voted to double the force, Crane said.
Once the two officers are laid off after their two weeks notice given at the council meeting, the city will have its police chief and one full time paid officer.
“I don’t want to get rid of the volunteer officers, but it goes back to cost-saving measures because even though they don’t receive a salary they use a city police vehicle and the city pays for weapons, uniforms and training,” Crane said.
She said the decision to lay off officers is based on finances.
“We’re just tying to keep city’s finances in line,” Crane said. “I’m hoping the cost-cutting measures can be short lived and we can have the police force back where it was again in terms of strength.”
The timeline to hire officers depends on the city’s economic development, she said.
“What I thought was going to happen in October is now looking like next year,” Crane said, referring to a strip mall development in the works.
Crane asked citizens who are interested in the city’s infrastructure spending to attend the council’s planning workshop Tuesday night at 6:40 p.m., followed by the regular meeting at 7 p.m.
“If you’re interested in your community, come to City Council meetings,” she said, adding the council welcomes citizen comments as long as people sign in with the city secretary before the meeting starts.
At least one protestor carried a sign in front of City Hall on Tuesday afternoon, Crane said. “It was before I came in today, but I know he was there for awhile, left and returned. He never came inside,” she said. “The sign he carried said ‘Support Kempner Police’ on one side and voiced displeasure at my mayorship on the other.”
The grievance issue
Some Kempner citizens have said the firing of the two officers last week was due to grievances filed on April 8 against the mayor, a charge the mayor denies but did not want to discuss.
“No I will not discuss the grievances until after the City Council has made its decision,” Crane said.
John Wilkerson with the Texas Municipal Police Association filed the memorandum of grievance on behalf of all three officers on the force and Chief of Police Forrest Spence.
The memorandum outlined four items for the council to discuss and resolve, according to the documents.
“When the officers decided to present their grievances, I warned them at that time they should prepare themselves for retaliation, and sure enough, here we are,” he said previously.
The first issue in the memorandum accused the mayor of not letting the chief run the department by questioning decisions related to bringing patrol cars home and accusing an officer of going home early.
The memorandum further accused the mayor of having a “personal vendetta” against one of the officers who was fired because his wife at a meeting voiced her concern about the mayor not wanting to purchase vests for the department.
The third grievance item concerned communication methods between the police chief and the mayor, in which Wilkerson said the mayor decided she wanted phone calls rather than emails, according to the documents.
The officers requested the council require communication in email format. “We seek to ensure the chief will not be accused of being insubordinate and therefore subject to termination by the council,” according to the memorandum.
The fourth grievance item pertained to the chief. “The chief of police received negative marks on his annual evaluation, with poor explanation from the mayor,” the memorandum stated. “The mayor felt the chief should have disciplined officers” but was not specific about the officer or the reason.
“The chief of police also had a document placed in his file regarding what can best be described as a record of counseling,” which the chief did not know was put in his file, according to the memorandum.