PARKERSBURG - Sharyn Tallman, the Republican candidate for mayor, wants to improve the city police department. She points to a litany of issues surrounding the department and its need for an overhaul.
Tallman said the department is plagued by low morale. She also highlights a number of pending lawsuits and civil disputes that have cost the city more than $200,000.
Incumbent Mayor Bob Newell acknowledges many of the problems. He also wants to clean up and improve the department, but says efforts are being subverted.
"The mayor's office has a lot of power, but not the power to circumvent circuit court," he said referring to pending legal matters involving the Parkersburg Police Civil Service Commission.
Tallman said if elected she will allow Police Civil Service Commission decisions to stand, "whereas they have been ignored."
She was referring to rulings by the service commission regarding embattled police officers Floyd Holliday, Nathan Deuley and a dispute over the certification of a 2011 police sergeant's exam.
Holliday has been on paid leave ($36,000 annually) for almost two and half years. He was fired by the city in June 2010 for the alleged theft of items after a traffic stop and for allegedly downloading pornography onto another officer's laptop. The pornography charge was his second such offense over just a few months.
Holliday's firing was upheld by the police hearing board. In December 2010, the police civil service commission, by a 2-1 vote, overturned the firing.
"If your daughter, wife or sister would be sexually assaulted would you want a police officer who has twice been reprimanded for downloading pornography on his police-issued computer handling the case or would you want a professional police officer?" Newell asked.
"It is very difficult to put people like that back out on the street," Newell said.
Tallman said it was her understanding a decision had been made regarding Holliday, but she had never received any clarity on the commission's ruling.
"I do believe their decision needs to be transparent to the public because the citizens' tax dollars should not be wasted by paying an officer full pay for 24 months to stay at home simply because, as the mayor has stated, "he has no use for him,'" she said. "Allowing this standard to continue, we are unable to fill his position or put him back to work."
In overturning the termination, the commission upheld findings that led to Holliday's termination, but stated "his conduct did not rise to the level to warrant termination."
The issue had been drug out through the Wood County Circuit Court system, with no end in sight. A status hearing on the issue is set for the end of the month.
"All we have done is appeal it," Newell said.
"The civil service commission has failed to adequately provide a finding of fact as to why it ruled the way it did. And still they have refused to do that," Newell said.
Deuley has been on paid leave since May 2011. The patrolman was named in two lawsuits that were settled by the city. He also is the subject of a Department of Justice Investigation into alleged Civil Rights violations, according to Newell.
Deuley is also engaged in a lawsuit against the city. He complained to the service commission he was not given notice of the sergeant's exam administered in November 2011. Notices of the exam were posted and the city contends Deuley, who has been on paid leave since May 7, 2011, is not entitled to a specific notice.
"We are waiting on the Department of Justice to finish its issue," Newell said. "When we get an answer from the Department of Justice we will be able to make a decision and not until then."
Newell said Deuley was on suspension well before he filed suit, and the mayor alleges the suit was an attempt to intimidate city officials into reinstating Deuley.
In May, the service commission notified police Chief Joe Martin the test had not been certified and was considering challenges to the validity of the test. The issue, which affects the department's ability to promote officers, has not yet been resolved.
Newell said there are several officers on the list who are affected. The mayor maintains the commission is "clearly wrong."
So much so, officers have hired an attorney to take the matter to circuit court.
"The city is not holding it up or taking it to court," Newell said.
Newell acknowledge city employees are disgruntled and said he doesn't blame them.
"They have taken a hit (with the user fee and higher insurance costs) and haven't had a raise for a couple years," he said. "Not only do they pay the user fee, they get the blame. That's not just the police."
Newell said officers need to have a $2-an-hour raise to remain competitive with other local agencies, something he plans to address.
The mayor said some officers are disgruntled with Martin.
"Because he had to come in and get this department under control," he said. "Officers who are a discipline problem don't like that," Newell said.
Earlier this year, police Sgt. Josh Vensel, an eight-year veteran, pleaded guilty to a charge of battery after striking a man in police custody.
Newell said aside from the incident with Vensel, the city's other suits occurred under former police chief Gerald Board.
Board was hired by Newell and spent fours years as his chief of police.
"In the 18 months before Martin took over we had 15 claims with our insurance carrier against the police department," Newell said. "That's intolerable."
"(Martin) had to put his foot down and instill some discipline."
Tallman said, "I will follow the law, and rebuild relationships within the law enforcement community and will devote resources available to protect our citizens."
Tallman has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police Blennnerhassett Lodge, where Holliday and Deuley both serve as officers. Holliday is the lodge secretary and Deuley is the chaplain.
Tallman has also reversed her position on the fleet program. The councilwoman had been a outspoken critic of the program for several years ,and this spring at a candidate forum in Julia-Ann Historic District declared her intention to eliminate it.
She now says changes to the rules of the program have made it more palatable.
"When we discussed it awhile back, we weren't having a such an influx of crime," she said.
"Do I want more officers living in the city? Absolutely. But I can't dictate that. The rules for the fleet program have already been set," she said.