Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of City in Edwards vs. City

"Does it make sense that the city can strip the powers of an elected chief? That doesn't make sense." That was the view of Sallisaw's retired police chief Shaloa Edwards after he was informed that the State Supreme Court ruled against him, and for the City of Sallisaw. The court announced its ruling in favor of the city Tuesday. The opinion read: "The Supreme Court held that it would not question how a city charter allocated the authority to set the police chief's duties and responsibilities if not contrary to statute, precedent, or Constitution. The Sallisaw city charter granted that authority to the board of commissioners."

According to the court's response, Edwards argued that "an elected police chief has inherent powers to supervise and manage a police department. Drawing his support from his definition of police chief, defining the phrase as one who supervises and manages a department, Edwards asks this Court to recognize that elected police chiefs have inherent authority to manage and supervise the department without interference from other local municipal powers." But, "Edward's contention directly contradicts the plain language of the Sallisaw city charter," the court ruled.

Shannon Vann, who was Sallisaw's mayor at the time the allegations were made against Edwards, and which led to Edwards' retirement, said he was not surprised by the court's ruling. "We felt confident our actions were in the best interest of the city." The city's move to unseat Edwards as the city's police chief in 2013 were based on allegations Edwards took money for his personal use from the police department's petty cash fund. Edwards admitted he took between $40 and $60 from the petty cash drawer, but argued he did not know it was misconduct on his part. He argued that he left an IOU in the petty cash fund drawer, and paid the money back as soon as he was informed that taking the money was not legal. But several police officers and members of the local Fraternal Order of Police or FOP, submitted a long list of allegations against Edwards, one of which accused him of taking property that was owned by the police department. Edwards argued the officers held a grudge against him. The turmoil was believed to be over when Edwards agreed to resign, and charges against him were dropped. But Edwards, through his attorney Chip Sexton of Fort Smith, then filed in district court against the city. Special District Judge Holli Wells ruled in Edwards' favor, that the city could not strip him, as an elected official, of his powers. The city appealed that decision to the State Supreme Court, which vacated Wells' ruling on Tuesday. Vann continues his belief that the former police chief's actions were not in the best interests of the city. He said about Edwards, "It is a shame he brought disgrace upon the uniform and upon the city. We hope his actions in the future will reflect better on the community and himself."

Edwards said Tuesday he will talk to his attorney about any further actions against the city, if any. But he said about the city, "I'm trying to be done with them." Edwards said he has been working in construction since his retirement after nearly 30 years of police work. He said, "It's just another question about why we (in Sallisaw) have elections." Edwards indicated city commissioners' reworking of the city charter allowed for an appointed police chief. That is a proposition voters have turned down three times in the past. By Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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