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Council stands by its man

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Chief of Police William Anderson

City backs its embattled police chief; Bothwell charges ‘racism’

The council members’ separate announcements came on the heels of publication of a petition by 44 serving city police officers – nearly a quarter of the city’s rank-and-file policemen – calling for a “change in administration.” The petition amounted to a vote of no confidence in the way Anderson runs his department and called for his removal. Among other grievances, officers cited increased forced overtime, staff shortages and chronic low morale.

The four-page petition was delivered to City Manager Gary Jackson, who is Anderson’s direct superior, on Oct. 16. Jackson promptly released a statement, saying: Thursday , Asheville City Manager Gary Jackson sent News 13 the following statement:

“We value the views of all of our officers and Asheville citizens.  As we move forward with implementing the recently adopted strategic plan for the future of the Asheville Police Department, we intend to monitor closely the progress of the department. We will give the input of the petitioners’ thoughtful consideration within that process.  Progress reports will be shared with citizens, police personnel, and media as they become available.”

Mayor Esther Manheimer said “I continue to have confidence in Chief William Anderson,” though she added,” I also take seriously the concerns raised by the men and women of our police force.”

The mayor received a letter from the Mountain Chapter of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association accusing Anderson of failing to perform his duties.

“We are respectfully requesting the city council to use their lawful authority to address and resolve these very serious allegations … Our police officers and our citizens deserve nothing less.” ,” chapter President Brandon McGaha said in the letter.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tim Moffitt (R-Asheville) piled on, saying APD is infected with “a cancer of corruption” and asking State Attorney General Roy Hunt to investigate the department’s inner workings.

Council members Chris Pelly and Gwen Wister joined Manheimer in endorsing Anderson. Vice Mayor Mark Hunt demurred, however, saying that expressing his opinion would make it more difficult for Jackson to perform his duties. (Hunt and Jackson often work closely together, most recently in leveraging the takeover of the Pack Place physical plant.)

Councilman Cecil Bothwell, who in late September said he was “appalled” by officers’ video recording of participants in the city’s “Moral Monday” demonstrations, nevertheless voiced support for Anderson and alleged that criticism of the chief was rooted in racism.

The racism allegation was echoed by the Rev. Keith Ogden, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Asheville & Buncombe County, who said he had received a letter from “a group of concerned citizens” about the issue

The racial makeup of the group of officers who signed the petition was not made public.

For his part, Anderson issued a departmental memo urging his force to concentrate on ther jobs at hand and not to be distracted by negative media coverage. “Once again,” he said, APD is in the news for something other than the good work we do on a daily basis,” he said. “Let’s keep it real and put things in perspective.

“As I have said before, the most important thing for all of us is, ‘Do your job,’” he said “That’s what we do and that is how we roll,” the chief said.

Both Anderson and the mayor called attention to a “strategic plan,” adopted in July, correcting internal problems and improving performance at APD and indicated the plan is going forward. Among improvements that will be implemented under this plan, according to Anderson, are new smartphones for all officers and the phasing in of new patrol cruisers.

The plan, he said, also calls for the hiring of a new public information officer, possibly a civilian. The public information post is currently held by Sgt. Dave Romick. The strategic plan offers no rationale for replacing the public liaison officer.

The presentation of the officers’ petition follows hard on the heels of the latest adverse public information to surface about the department. Recent reports showed that defective radar equipment used by city officers had been responsible for the improper issuance of some 250 speeding tickets during the past year. The radar units used in those citations had not been recalibrated within the required maintenance time, reports showed.

As a result, District Attorney Ron Moore said, he has been forced to suspend further prosecution of speeding tickets until his office “gets some answers.”

This is not the first time the mayor and council have made a point of standing behind their police chief. Similar expressions of support were issued regarding Anderson’s handling of a one-car traffic accident in which his son was charged with (and later convicted of) leaving the scene, and in the wake of a lawsuit filed by former APD Lt. William Byrd, who charged that he had been subjected to retaliatory conduct by Anderson and others because he criticized departmental procedures. Byrd later sued the city.

The Tribune was unable to reach Council members Jan Davis and Gordon Smith by press time.

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