By Kathi Bliss
While city staff grapples with the reorganization of the Lockhart Police Department, the department’s top dog has chosen to step down.
Chief Frank Coggins announced this week that he will resign his post effective Monday, Jan. 9, 2006.
According to his letter of resignation to City Manager Clovia English, Coggins’ decision was based largely on increasing tension between the police department, the city council and the city manager. Over the last several months, the Lockhart Police Department has been a hotbed of controversy since the Lockhart City Council decided to reduce the force by four positions in September.
During a special-called meeting to discuss the city’s budget on Sept. 22, English presented a manpower report comparing Lockhart’s emergency service departments to other area departments.
The report indicated that the police department was overstaffed, English said. She advised the council that the only way to balance the city’s budget was to cut positions from the police force.
Coggins later called the report “bogus.”
Many area residents were infuriated by the reduction in force (RIF) and rallied behind Coggins and the department. One group organized a petition to recall Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram, claiming that the decision to cut police positions endangered the community and accusing Bertram of refusing to listen to public concern.
English has also fallen under heavy fire from the community since the RIF.
Since the RIF, several high-ranking police officers have left the force – effectively blocking the RIF, but also leaving the department with openings high in the ranks.
Four officers, Capt. Dewayne Dalrymple, Lt. Charles Bethel, Det. James Beck and Community Service Officer Judy Thomas retired. A fifth officer, also a detective, chose to pursue other opportunities.
For some time, members of the city council have been asking English to present a plan for reorganizing the department, as the staffing changes began in mid-October. However, as of the last council meeting on Dec. 20, English had not yet made the presentation.
English declined to comment on Coggins’ resignation, stating that city policy prevents public commentary on personnel matters.
Because of the high level of interest in the ongoing situation regarding the Lockhart Police Department, we found that Chief Coggins’ letter as a matter of general interest, and there found it appropriate to republish the letter in its entirety. While Chief Coggins did not personally distribute his letter of resignation to the media, he has confirmed that the following is a true and correct copy of the letter, and it has been published with his permission. -kb
December 27, 2005
Dear Ms. English:
Today, I am tendering my resignation as Chief of Police effective Monday, January 9, 2006.
It has been clear for some time now that we have irreconcilable differences in communication and management styles, what constitutes department head responsibilities, and the recollection of past events.
The police department has been the focus of relentless and unjustified criticism since May 2005. We have been wrongly portrayed as having no community support and both smothered and interfered with in carrying out our legitimate law enforcement duties.
In addition, I was denied an opportunity to dialogue with you about some very important decisions effecting the police department – the reduction in force, the new pay plan, and, most recently, the reorganization of the police department as a result of the RIF. These decisions were made using flawed analysis, without involving me, and, in my opinion, based on a determination to punish the department.
The police have been harassed by certain elected officials as a means of limiting enforcement of the law. The same elected officials have interfered in the routine operations of the department, including where and how to park patrol cars, and they threatened the department for aggressive DWI enforcement. This interference with the legitimate authority of the police is totally inappropriate and borders on illegal coercion.
On Friday afternoon, December 16, you phoned me about a correspondence sent to you about manning levels. To paraphrase the conversation, you were angry that the four-plus page document contained my opinion and concern that the information would be used to further reduce the effectiveness of the police department under the guise of balancing the city budget. Calling me unprofessional, you demanded that I remove that sentence and resubmit the report. When I said that sentence reflected my opinion, you told me you weren’t interested in my opinion and added that you were surprised and disappointed that I couldn’t let go of the matter.
This was the first “personal” contact that we have had in some time. Unfortunately, your purpose in calling wasn’t to discuss the subject, but to demand a correction. You told me you were not interested in my opinion. I can accept that you do not agree with my opinion, that you hold a different opinion, or that you consider my opinion as incorrect. However, to tell a department head that you are not interested in their opinion is astonishing and incomprehensible.
The reorganization plan (memo dated Dec. 16) that you developed for the police department is the structure you had in mind from the first day you informed me that you were going to restructure. I totally disagree with it and your assessment. Your sweeping rejection of my proposed restructuring is based on a very limited observation of the people and their duties, a personal bias toward certain present and former employees, and a lack of expertise in police administration.
The frivolous complaints against the police, the interference in police operations, and your overbearing management style have combined to create an intolerable and hostile work environment. As such, I am compelled to resign my position rather than subordinate my duty to the public to the misguided interest of certain elected and appointed officials.
W. Frank Coggins
Chief of Police
Lockhart Police Department