Miami council meeting gets heated as police chief carousel and staffing issues continue

Miami Town Council members held a sometimes-heated discussion on the process of hiring a chief of police for the town during its Jan. 28 meeting. From left, Councilman Mike Black, Vice Mayor Sammy Gonzales, Councilwoman Patty Bringhurst, Mayor Darryl Dalley and Councilmen Don Reiman, Dan Moat and Angel Medina. Photo by Carol Broeder.

Tempers flared over one particular agenda item — the process for hiring a chief of police — both during and after the Jan. 28 Miami Town Council meeting.

In addition to “information, discussion and possible action,” the item included possibly directing city staff to draft an ordinance making the police chief an at-will employee who answers directly to town council.

Town Manager Joe Heatherly already promoted Interim Chief Sgt. Keith Thompson to chief, who was sworn in earlier in the meeting.

Councilwoman Patty Bringhurst pointed it out, saying, “That’s wonderful. I’m all for it,” but that in the future she wanted the council to have more say in hiring the chief.

On the subject of interviewing police chief candidates, Bringhurst said, “Why can’t it be more than one council member?”

Town Attorney Susan Goodwin said that interviewing candidates “could be done in a public meeting — which I’ve seen — or in executive session.”

Councilman Mike Black asked about the council hiring the chief, to which Goodwin replied that Miami currently has only two at-will employees — the clerk and the manager.

“You’re asking me, ‘Can we do it?’ but you would have to make sure that your ordinances reflect it,” she said.

Goodwin read an ordinance stating that all police officers answer to the mayor and council.

She pointed out that the ordinance dates back to the 1920s, “when they probably had only two officers,” and now it needed to be fixed.

“I was having a hard time tracking this through,” Goodwin said. “None of this is binding on you if you want to fix it now.”

Turning toward Black, Councilman Jose “Angel” Medina said, “What brought this on? Is there a problem all of a sudden? To me, this came out of nowhere. It blindsided me.”

“It sounds like grandstanding to me,” said Medina, later commenting, “Just remember who opened this can of worms.”

Black cited the recent turnover in the chief position, and that he had wanted the council to discuss it before Heatherly hired another one.

For that reason, Black asked during the Jan. 14 meeting that the item be tabled until Jan. 28. In addition, Vice Mayor Sammy Gonzales was on an excused absence at the time.

At the Jan. 28 meeting, Councilman Don Reiman said, “Hiring the police chief can’t wait until someone gets back into town,” and that the police chief position should not be subject to “a changing political climate.”

“It’s hard enough to hire people here,” he said.

“The only one that knows all of the pieces is the city manager,” Reiman said. “Certainly, none of us didn’t know that we needed a police chief. A lot of the time, I don’t understand something because I haven’t been paying attention.”

Gonzales pointed out that the Globe City Council appoints the police chief, then asked Globe City Manager Paul Jepson, who was at the meeting, to comment.

Jepson confirmed that the police chief is “hired and fired by the council but reports directly to the city manager.”

He commented later that while he has his own opinion on the matter, that is how the Globe ordinance reads.

Heatherly said, “Let’s just say I’m not interested. I’m not going to run this place when you seven people pick them and four years later, the new ones want someone else.”

“If you want to do it, then go for it,” said Heatherly, indicating that he would leave the city manager post.

Black attempted to make a motion, but the discussion continued.

Replying to a comment allegedly made by Black, Dalley said, “Just shut your mouth right now.”

When Dalley said that making comments under his breath doesn’t help the situation, Black responded that Dalley does the same thing.

He then moved to direct staff to make the police chief an at-will employee.

The motion failed due to a tie, with Black, Gonzales and Bringhurst voting in favor and Dalley, Medina and Reiman voting against.

Councilman Dan Moat abstained, though he had given no indication other than not raising his hand either way. Moat confirmed it when asked by fellow council members if he had abstained from voting.

Tempers flared even after the meeting adjourned.

During a discussion between Black and Heatherly, Black began pointing his finger toward Heatherly, and Thompson and Christine Duarte rushed to stand between them.

As Black was leaving the building, he walked back up the aisle, saying, “Do it right, Joe. Do it right,” to which Heatherly replied, “Run it better, Mike. Run it better.”

“Why don’t you just shut your mouth, Joe?” said Black, to which Medina said sternly, “Hey, hey.”

Noticing that Thompson and Duarte were once again between him and Heatherly, Black said, “So, you’re going to protect him, huh?” before leaving the building.

Thompson was heard to say, “I’m not going to let him put his finger into my boss’s face.”

During the Jan. 14 council meeting, Heatherly announced that former Chief Israel Juarez had resigned “to pursue other employment opportunities.”

He said that Juarez had given proper notice, then the past Wednesday had “brought in his things and said he was done.”

It left the MPD with yet another vacancy, with one officer recently terminated and another officer on administrative leave following the Jan. 5 officer-involved shooting, he said.

Heatherly told the council that he wanted to “make it a permanent position” for Interim Chief Thompson, who was “a serious contender” when he had previously interviewed for the chief’s position.

He coordinated everything with the officer-involved shooting, taking over and calling in the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office to investigate, Heatherly said.

Black talked about recent turnover in the chief position, to which Reiman replied, “I don’t know that reporting to the council would change that.”

Bringhurst said, “I would just like the council to have more input. I was floored when I found out that (Juarez) had resigned.”

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