Collegedale assistant police chief resigns; mayor stalls emergency meeting

Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / The a clock tower in front of Collegedale City Hall is pictured Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Collegedale, Tennessee.

The Collegedale (Tennessee) Police Department's assistant chief, James Hardeman, has resigned.

The resignation, announced Monday, comes after three police officers were unexpectedly fired and the police spokeswoman replaced Friday.

It is unclear why Hardeman resigned.

New spokeswoman Bridget Raper said Hardeman "resigned on his own with no warning and has chosen to not work any notice."

Also Monday, Collegedale Mayor Katie Lamb decided not to hold an emergency meeting that was called for by three city commissioners last week after the firings.

photo Mayor Katie Lamb. Photo provided by the City of Collegedale.

The meeting still will be held, but it will take place during the city's regularly scheduled city commission meeting on Sept. 16.

The decision was made "based upon the need to give adequate public notice in accordance with the Open Meetings Act," Raper said in an emailed statement.

Collegedale is authorized to call special meetings, according to the Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel.

While there's no hard-and-fast rule as to how many days contitute adequate notice, "courts should look to whether the notice, based on the totality of the circumstances, would fairly inform the public that a meeting was to occur," the open records counsel has said.

In one case, the Tennessee Court of Appeals determined that two days' notice was insufficient to fairly inform the public of a meeting under the particular circumstances of that case. So, in most cases, two days is likely to be insufficient notice.

However, the counsel has reiterated that the "courts are to consider the totality of the circumstances in each specific circumstance to determine whether adequate public notice has been provided."

Attorneys for two of the three fired officers have said the officers were fired for allegedly cooperating with a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into the city's alleged quota system.

photo James Hardeman / Photo provided by Collegedale Police Department

The TBI has been investigating the allegation since July.

Janie Parks Varnell, who represents former officers Kolby Duckett and David Schilling, argued the firings were "just another example of the City of Collegedale, Chief Brian Hickman and City Manager Ted Rogers terminating skilled officers simply because those officers brought attention to the illegal quota system implemented by the Department."

The city has denied the allegations and has argued it is an "'at-will' employer under Tennessee law, meaning that either "the City or the employee may terminate the employment relationship at any time without notice or cause."

In July, Parks Varnell filed a lawsuit against the city and its officials on behalf of former officer Robert Bedell, who claimed that beginning in January, officers were being written up for not meeting monthly quotas.

Parks Varnell has argued that "Tennessee law protects public employees who bring attention to the illegal activities of their employers."

Because Bedell was a public servant, he had a "property right to his employment," Varnell argues, meaning he was entitled to "sufficient notice of any misconduct justifying termination," according to the Tennessee constitution.

Additionally, Bedell had a "due process right" to be notified of any allegations against him, Varnell states.

Tennessee law states that police officers have to be "notified in writing of all charges, the basis for the charges, and the action that may be taken," and officers should be given a reasonable amount of time to respond to such allegations.

The city, however, has argued that that law does not apply to it because "the City of Collegedale does not provide its police officers a property interest in their employment," according to its response to Bedell's lawsuit.

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