The City of Allen is without a police chief, again, after hiring a deputy with 23 years of law enforcement experience last month.
That’s because, after the commission voted to hire him on Jan. 6, James Keeton, a Paintsville resident who works as a part-time bailiff in Johnson County, decided not to take the job. He said he got a “bad vibe” in a phone call from a city official.
In an interview with the Floyd County Chronicle and Times a day after he was hired, Keeton said he was excited to start working in Allen. He said he had already started looking for grants that could help the city. In an interview this week, Keeton explained, however, that his feelings about working in Allen changed after he got a call from Allen Commissioner Elmer Parsons.
On Jan. 6, the commission interviewed Keeton in closed session and voted unanimously to hire him as chief part-time, with officials reporting he would earn $14 per hour for six months and that his pay would increase to $15 per hour thereafter.
Keeton said Parsons called him on Jan. 10 to tell him that he was not yet officially hired in Allen and that his pay would instead be $10.50.
“He told me that he’d been talking with the mayor and they decided that they was just going to pay me, like, $10.50 an hour. And I said, ‘Well, you was there and voted on it, the night that they done it, so, I just felt like that there’s a lot of stuff going on that I didn’t know about,’” Keeton said. “I just didn’t want to get involved in that kind of politics with them.”
He said he got a “bad vibe” from that phone call.
“I didn’t like the thoughts of them wanting to get me started and then the pay not be what they agreed on,” Keeton said. “I just didn’t like the thoughts of them trying to change the quote and I just thought, well, I’m too old to be doing horse-trading, so.”
The Allen City Commission did not hold a regular meeting this week, with Mayor Sharon Woods and commissioners Josh Kinzer and Dr. Eilene Kinzer absent. While waiting for others to arrive, Parsons talked about the need to hire a new police officer. He reported that he called Keeton to tell him his hiring last month was not final, pending a background check, and that the city could only afford to pay him $10.50 per hour — things the commission did not discuss publicly on Jan. 6.
On Tuesday, Josh Kinzer complained about the situation in a telephone interview.
“Well, he was hired. He was hired by a vote of the board, and as I understand it, Commissioner Parsons and Mayor Woods contacted him on their own ... and I guess Mayor Woods was not happy with the way the board had agree to pay him,” Kinzer said. “And so, as I understand it, Mr. Keeton had determined that there was too much political drama going on and he declined to come to the contract signing and accept the position.”
Kinzer also said, “As far as hiring a new police officer goes, I don’t know. I would assume that if folks are going to have an issue with a current police officer that the board voted unanimously on to hire, that should have been brought up in front of the whole board, and that should have been discussed with the board instead of outside of that proper channel. And so, as far as hiring a new one goes. I don’t know. I guess that’s up to the mayor and Commissioner Parsons to figure out.”
Kinzer said he has tried to explain, several times, to Allen commissioners that a commission vote — not an individual — is what determines actions taken in a commission form of government. City Attorney Beth Shortridge has also repeatedly made similar comments over the past several years.
“I’ve tried to explain that and explain that and explain that and it just doesn’t seem to work,” Kinzer said.
Kinzer said he’s received complaints from the public about the lack of police in the city.
“But I will tell you this, many citizens have asked me why we don’t have one, and we have had reports of things getting stolen, and crime picking up, and so, it would have been nice to have Mr. Keeton start on the 15th like he was supposed to,” Kinzer said.
He said he understands why Keeton did not take the job after getting that phone call and voiced frustration about the situation, saying he and Eilene Kinzer put a lot of time into seeking job applicants and setting up interviews for the police chief and clerk positions in Allen.
“How does it make me feel that all the hard work that we’ve put into it has been set aside? Now, it doesn’t make me feel happy, I’ll tell you that,” Kinzer said. “It makes me feel upset that the progress of the city and the protection of the people has been, once again, delayed and put off because of some people’s insistence that they, and they alone, are the decision makers, when we are a commission, and we voted all together and he’s right. We did give him our word. We did make that vote. We discussed it. We went into executive session and discussed every aspect of that. We had, Eilene had talked with our bookkeeper and made sure that’s what we could afford to pay the man, a competitive rate ... And so, it upsets me greatly because the people in the city are without police protection now when they could have had a qualified officer already working for the last two-and-a-half weeks.”
Kinzer said Allen residents are being “underserved.”
“I just don’t see how we can move forward unless the proper procedures of a commission form of government, which is what the people of Allen chose to have when they incorporated, is followed. If that procedure isn’t ever followed, we’re always going to be in this same limbo state of nothing getting done, no communication or anything,” he said. “All decisions should be made in that open meeting, outside of sensitive personnel issues or other issues that would allow you to go into sessions. Everything else has to be done in those meetings, and what we’ve seen time and time again is a failure for that to be followed through. And I think for folks that have been in a commission form of government for decades now, you should know how to properly function within that system.”
Allen has been without a police officer since the former Police Chief Thomas Gearheart resigned in September 2018. He stated in a letter, “Due to the current situation within the city government I do not feel association with the City of Allen is beneficial to me, or my reputation.”
After he resigned, Parsons complained several times in meetings about items he said Gearheart did not return to the city after he resigned. Shortridge cleared that issue up in January, when she told the commission that all of the items Parsons reported missing were in the city’s evidence locker at city hall, where Gearheart had placed them prior to leaving.
The city has been operating without a clerk since June, when former clerk Krystal Spurlock resigned.
The commission voted to hire Gina Vaughn, manager of a gas station in New Allen, at $10 per hour to prepare the city’s financial paperwork for submission to the state in November 2019. Last month, Parsons told the commission that Vaughn’s sister will help her get the documents in order. He reported that Vaughn will pay her sister for that work, not the city. On Monday, Vaughn’s sister, identifying herself as Krystal Fields, sat at the city commission table, preparing to take minutes of the meeting. When asked if she was a city employee, Fields said she was Vaughn’s sister.
Kinzer said the commission never voted to hire her as a city clerk.
“That’s another thing that wasn’t voted on,” Kinzer said. “That wasn’t voted on. That was never brought before to bring her on as clerk. I’ve never even met Krystal Fields before ... The commission has never hired her. Now, she may have been told she is an employee by other commissioners or the mayor, but the commission has never voted to hire her into a position at all.”