The legal dispute over the firing of Police Chief Brad Sweeney isn’t over, which is not good news for taxpayers, who are footing the bill for the city and Decatur City Manager Tim Gleason’s legal bills.
At a hearing on Tuesday, Macon County Circuit Judge A.G. Webber IV dismissed the lawsuit filed by Sweeney a few days after he was fired by Gleason. Sweeney’s attorney, Jon D. Robinson, said he would file a new complaint within the next two weeks. The city and Gleason, represented by attorneys Ed Flynn and Jerry Stocks, said they would be prepared to file a response.
Sweeney alleges that he was fired, in part, because he complained about Gleason getting a ride to the St. Louis airport in a police car last May and because Sweeney disagreed with the implementation of a gas tax. Some of Gleason’s reasons for the firing were revealed in court filings. They included Sweeney not telling Gleason about a shoplifting incident involving his wife, which did not result in any charges. Other accusations included Sweeney being rude to a mediator and a heating and cooling contractor and a meeting where Gleason dismissed Sweeney after the gas tax discussion.
Although Webber made it clear that Tuesday’s hearing wasn’t intended to try the case, there are some conclusions that can be drawn from what we know so far.
First, Gleason should not have been offered, or accepted, a ride to the St. Louis airport in an unmarked police car. While we understand that Gleason had to change travel plans in order to attend the State of the City breakfast, that’s not an appropriate use of city property. It was an error in judgment by whoever made the decision. Sweeney’s legal claim under the state’s whistle blower law is more complicated, but the bottom line is that city property shouldn’t have been used for private purposes.
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Based on what we know at this time, it’s not crystal clear that Sweeney deserved to be fired. There were certainly issues between Gleason and Sweeney, and court filings do not allow us to know how dysfunctional the relationship had become. But one has to wonder if a more prudent path might have been for Gleason to explain to Sweeney what he expected and to see if a working relationship could have been established. The issues Gleason cited were concerning, but it’s not clear they warranted firing a 20-year veteran of the police department.
Having said that, there is no dispute that Gleason has the power to hire and fire city department managers, including the police chief. The relationship between a manager and a direct report has to be a two-way street, but there also has to be an understanding of who’s in charge. It’s possible that Sweeney didn’t respect Gleason’s position.
One has to wonder what Sweeney hopes to gain from his lawsuit. He wants his job back, but it’s pretty clear that the situation between him and Gleason is irreparable.
Sweeney certainly has the right to file a new complaint and the city has to respond. There’s little reason, however, to believe this incident will turn out well for anyone, including the city’s taxpayers.