Aberdeen's police chief and City Council president yesterday called the council's rejection of a recommendation to dismiss the chief for alleged misconduct a vote of support for the officer.
At a closed meeting Tuesday night, the council, which includes Mayor Ruth Elliot, voted 4-1 to throw out the mayor's recommendation. Mrs. Elliot cast the opposing vote.
The council then voted by the same margin to turn the matter over to City Administrator Peter Dacey.
"I would suggest that it [the council's decision] was a vote of support," said Chief John R. Jolley. He said he wouldn't comment further until he consults with his attorney.
Council President Ronald Kupferman agreed. "I certainly hope Chief Jolley sees the vote as supportive -- that was the intent," he said.
Mr. Kupferman said he's pleased the issue is now in the hands of Mr. Dacey. He said the allegations against the chief constitute a personnel matter that should have been dealt with in-house rather than turned over to the state prosecutor.
In a July 2 report, State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli cited several administrative improprieties by Chief Jolley, including voiding dozens of traffic and parking tickets and writing checks totaling $150 against a discretionary fund under his control.
One of the tickets had been issued to the wife of a Police Department employee, the prosecutor said.
However, after weighing the seriousness of the improprieties and determining that the chief didn't personally profit from them, Mr. Montanarelli decided not to pursue criminal charges.
"Sure, what he did was wrong, but you're not talking about sinister, evil doings. You're talking about an abuse of authority where the amount of money involved was so small," Mr. Montanarelli said, adding that the case does not belong in a criminal court.
But a spokesman for the Aberdeen Police Officers Union said the group does not think the council has acted properly and in the best interest of the city since early February, when the charges of mismanagement and administrative misconduct against the chief surfaced.
"This has been made into a personal issue between the four councilmen and the mayor," said union representative Kenny Cox, adding that the power struggle has superseded the issue of disciplinary action.
"They didn't really look at the report and make a decision based on the bare facts within it when they voted on Tuesday," he said. "The reason for the 4-1 vote was politically motivated based on that battle for power."
Mr. Dacey said he will review the state prosecutor's report and will then take any action he deems necessary. He said he has not set a deadline.
But Mr. Kupferman said that, although he will support Mr. Dacey's decision, it may not be the final word on the matter.
"I would think that the administrator's decision could be overruled by a majority vote of the mayor and the council," he said.
Mr. Dacey said that if the council were to override his decision, he doesn't know what the next step would be. "I don't know what would happen then," he said, "but I don't expect something like that because we left the meeting on Tuesday with the understanding that the matter of any personnel action is now in my hands."