Please allow me to provide a general response to all those from across the State, as well as from Pocomoke City, who have sent the form email to our City Clerk regarding the termination of employment of our former Chief of Police. I will address the points raised by paragraph as presented in the emails.
1. The characterization of the “firing as “unlawful” is a matter of legal opinion, and has been expressed without knowledge of the facts; which facts the City is prohibited by law from providing. I will say this – no one has been fired, disciplined, etc. on the basis of race, or for filing an EEOC claim, or for assisting others in filing an EEOC claim. I am often surprised that folks want to jump to conclusions because someone else says it is so, rather than waiting for the process to play out. Believe me; if it were legal to tell you why Chief Sewell was fired, I would be first in line to do so. You might also ask yourself this question, if the City is so racially negative and motivated, how is it that Chief Sewell ever became the City’s first African-American chief? Also, the statistics do not support the claim that crime is down overall in Pocomoke City. Although acceptance in the community is a significant factor, being a Chief of Police requires more than just being popular in any community.
2. The only type of meeting where a discussion of an employee’s performance and action to be taken is at an administrative function or closed session. Although a technical violation of the Act may have occurred (not admitting same), the notice to be provided, again as provided by law, would and could not have named Chief Sewell. That is part of the protection offered all employees when it comes to personnel matters.
3. On a personnel matter, it was not necessarily so that a vote was required to be taken in public, only that it be reported. Everyone is aware that the vote was 4-1, with Councilwoman Downing the only vote opposed to the termination. The law does not permit the “explanation” referred to in the emails. To “explain” would be to “reveal.” We simply cannot join the public into the personnel matter process. Why there is the continuing doubt over this proposition is beyond me.
4. Regarding the issue of asking media to leave the room, the Mayor has many times, contritely, taken responsibility for his mistake. I note that the email notes that “hundreds” of citizens came to express concerns. If you heard the Mayor, he asked some media to leave to make room for the citizens. Not a legal excuse, but a well-intentioned motivation.
5. I, too, stand for transparency in the government process. I have provided many government clients over the years with open meetings, public information, and ethics training. My contract and resume will soon be posted on our web page. Although I was not employed by the City at the times these actions were taken, I am satisfied that the firing of Chief Sewell was warranted and legal, and was not done in violation of his, or anyone’s, rights. I trust that the public will give Chief Harden an opportunity to move us forward.