By Roger McCredie –
One social media wag said late last week that it was a good thing it’s legal to keep chickens in the city of Asheville, as a lot of them seemed to be coming home to roost at City Hall.
On Thursday morning (July 11), members of Asheville’s governing body emerged from their second closed door session in a week, filed solemnly into the main council chamber and took their seats. Mayor Terry Bellamy then announced that Council had now finished its review of, and was ready to rule on, a complaint made by Asheville Police Department Lt. William Wilke. The complaint, filed and made public by Wilke on June 27, alleged that Police Chief William Anderson and other senior officers attempted to coerce Wilke into participating in a coverup of facts surrounding a traffic accident involving Anderson’s son, Chad, in March.
The mayor then read into the record a three-page “statement of the city of Asheville regarding allegations of coercion, cover-up, management and employee related concerns within the city of Asheville police department,” which began by stating that “The Asheville City Council … takes tremendous pride in the men and women of the Asheville Police Department … a group of highly trained and dedicated public servants …” before setting out the City Manager’s response to Wilke’s allegations.
The text of council’s statement seemed to imply that ordinarily the city would have been under no obligation to make its “certain personnel information” public, but was doing so in accordance with state statute 160A-168( c ) as “essential to maintaining public confidence in city services …” If the city did not make public its findings, the statement said, the citizens of Asheville would be forced “to accept the statements made by the Lieutenant as representative of the manner in which the City manages its employees and provides essential City services.”
The City Manager’s office, the document said, had “invested over 20 hours” interviewing seven city employees (or the equivalent of 2.5 work days at an average of 2.85 hours per employee) and had determined that:
No attempt was made, by Chief Anderson or anyone else, to force Wilke into condoning or taking part in creating “false and misleading information” about Chad Anderson’s traffic accident. Such conduct would have been a criminal act, the statement said, and the District Attorney had already said that “no criminal laws were violated in the course of the investigation”; therefore, the city deferred to the DA’s opinion. No harm, no foul.
It was, however, “not appropriate” for Chief Anderson to send Capt. Stoney Gonce to fetch Wilke out of an interview with State Bureau of Investigation officers, even though “there are no City or Department policies or procedures that address this issue.” It is not clear why the SBI officers interviewing Wilke allowed the interruption.
The mayor then introduced a resolution, endorsing the report, which passed unanimously. At that point, City Manager Gary Jackson made a power point presentation he said would summarize his office’s findings and actions taken by the city since the March 9 accident. Much of Jackson’s presentation was a list of accomplishments and innovations marking Anderson’s administration to date, such as a nine percent decrease in the city’s crime rate and the success of the APD’s downtown patrol unit. It was revealed, however, that police captains would henceforth manage departments on a rotating basis, and that Gonce, under this plan, has been rotated off command of the patrol unit, meaning Wilke will no longer be under his command.
Following adjournment, the Tribune asked the mayor why Jackson’s presentation had not been made as a part of the city’s statement, which would have made it subject to possible examination and discussion before adoption of the resolution that ratified it, in accordance with usual parliamentary procedure.
“We could have done it that way,” Bellamy said. “We just wanted to have our position made clear and on the record first.”
Reporters put several additional questions to the mayor, who at one point seemed to become visibly annoyed. “If y’all [reporters] are going to start picking over every word I say, I am not going there,” she said.
Bellamy went on to defend Anderson’s administration, saying he inherited problems from prior police management. “We believe our Police Department has some issues that need to be addressed, but that has been the case over the years,” she said. “We have had issues with [former police chief Will] Annarino. We have had issues with [former police chief Bill] Hogan.”
The mayor made her remarks as she left council chambers about 10:45 a.m. By lunchtime she was receiving incoming fire.
The first salvo was a lengthy and scathing e-mail from former Chief Annarino. It began, “Shame on you Ms. Bellamy,” And it went on from there.
Annarino said he was “appalled and saddened that in your misguided attempts to justify past hiring decisions you have chosen to drag the agency I worked for down with you.
“The dept [under Annarino’s 1993-2004 administration] was not perfect by any means but no one could say that the dept ever covered anything up or failed to act on any allegations of police misconduct … Relations were good in the community and the dept’s reputation across the state was outstanding,” the former chief said.
“Unless your head was in the sand back then you may recall that APD employee efforts led to the Asheville Police Department obtaining national accreditation at a time when only 3% of all Law Enforcement Agencies in the Country were Nationally Accredited … many fine hard working employees put their hearts and souls into making APD the finest in the state only to see many of it’s innovations and accomplishments fall by the way side as it suffers thru incompetent and ineffectual leadership -both in city hall and APD. . Employees deserve better. The community deserves better,” he added.
“I cannot answer for Bill Hogan nor for what occurred on his watch but I will certainly defend the dept against your comments while I was Chief of Police,” Annarino said. Former Chief Hogan, whom the mayor also referenced in her remark, resigned amid a storm of controversy when an SBI investigation revealed that guns, cash, drugs and other items had disappeared from APD’s evidence room.
Next day the mayor and council received an e-mail from retired police Capt. Tony Aardema, who served under Annarino. Aardema called the Mayor’s remarks “cheap shots and incorrect assumptions,” and added, “Based on your recent actions it sounds like you hold a grudge against any competent manager.
“We had to demonstrate integrity and ethical behavior. That is why we didn’t get sued, we didn’t have our actions overturned and we didn’t participate in any of the type of shenanigans that have gone on recently at the Asheville Police Dept. You see, we belonged to the City, to the Agency, to the citizens and employees. We were local. We weren’t hired guns, brought in from somewhere else, to do the bidding of politicians or persons with private agendas,” Aardema said.
As the dust began to settle, Bellamy offered an apology of sorts to Annarino. “This issue that brought us to this place where we are, it’s not about me. It’s not about Chief Annarino. And I don’t mind apologizing if it’s perceived that I was trying to lump it all together,” the Mayor said. Meanwhile, according to an e-mail obtained by the Asheville Citizen-Times, Anderson told his staff the good name of APD was “being dragged through the mud” and that he was not aware of any major problems within the department.
But the day wasn’t over yet.
Two more police officers announced they have filed EEOC complaints claiming discriminatory practices in the department. Lt. Mark Byrd, a 15-year APD veteran, cited cases of “false and misleading information” and “a pattern of ongoing behavior that avoids accountability by top management.” The other officer, who was not named, said he had been “pressured” by his captain “to modify the facts which I had previously given concerning certain aspects of a then ongoing investigation.”
City Council members either declined comment altogether on this latest development or remarked that it would not be appropriate for them to comment at this time.