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Fired DeKalb police chief: ‘I was unique’
Fired DeKalb police chief Terrell Bolton testified today he was exempt from county procedures forbidding police executives from taking compensatory time.
Vernon Jones, then the county’s chief executive officer, promised Bolton comp time in 2007 when he was hired, Bolton said. He testified this morning as an administrative hearing resumed on his appeal of his February firing.
“My deal was that I had followed the [comp time] policy as established by my boss,” he testified. “I was an executive and I was unique.”
Pressed by hearing officer Phyllis R. Williams, Bolton said some procedures in DeKalb’s police manual did not apply to him.
“I was unique in that I had a special arrangement with the person who hired me as part of my compensation package,” Bolton testified. “He supersedes any rule or regulation, basically.”
At the time DeKalb hired him, Bolton said, he had been fired as police chief of Dallas, Texas. He said he was running a small, start-up business there, but “I had not done that much.”
When the possibility of the DeKalb job came up, Bolton said he “had to get a salary high enough to justify moving to DeKalb. We had some discussions. [Comp time] was one of the things.”
Bolton was making $162,000 a year when he was fired. He took 80 days of comp time in 2007 and 2008, records show.
In closing arguments, the county’s attorney, Howard “Tres” Indermark, described Bolton’s actions as insubordinate, arrogant and — perhaps — illegal.
Indermark noted that Bolton assigned a forfeited Mercedes Benz and Range Rover to himself as part of a fleet of seven cars at his disposal. Under Georgia law, Indermark said, “seized and forfeited vehicles can only be used for official law enforcement purposes, not for weekend pleasure drives.
“Is it any accident that the two most expensive luxury vehicles in the entire Police Department fleet ended up in Terrell Bolton’s garage? No.”
Bolton’s attorney, Bill McKenney, insisted that Bolton’s vehicle usage broke no laws.
“There’s nothing in county ordinances that restricts or prohibits the number of cars a police chief can have. He might have had 10. He might have had one,” McKenney said.
Even if there were a problem, McKenney said, Bolton had returned the vehicles to the police fleet before CEO Burrell Ellis, who fired him, took office in January.
“The CEO can’t retroactively discipline an employee for alleged conduct that was conducted during a prior administration,” McKenney said.
Also today, Bolton said:
— He gave a loaded, police-issue Crown Victoria to his embattled civilian chief of staff, Keisha Williams, as a show of support.
Williams, a former TV news producer with no law enforcement experience, had been under fire from veteran officers and supervisors who objected to her role as Bolton’s second in command. Bolton said Williams is a childhood friend of his sister’s.
“I had gotten a lot of chatter about her having a car, and so some of the people in the circle were attacking her … and I told them I gave her a brand new Crown Victoria,” he said.
“You had jealousy, envy, just a lot of bickering,” Bolton said. “I tried to prop her up with as much support as I could.”
“The people in the circle,” he said, included Deputy Chief Karen Anderson, who ”asked me to get rid of her [Williams]” shortly before he was fired himself.
Anderson, as acting chief, ultimately fired Williams on the order of newly elected CEO Burrell Ellis.
— Showed disdain for news reports questioning his use of comp time, particularly from Channel 5’s Dale Russell.
“Why would I want to watch where I had a reporter that had been unfair to me?” he asked. “It’s just like the blues. I don’t listen to the blues because it makes me sad.”
He said Jones told him not to worry about the criticism of his comp time practices.
“Mr. Jones’ take on it was, ‘Chief, you always tell me when you’re gone. I’m not looking over our shoulder. You’re the department head,’ ’’ Bolton said.
— Kept Jones’ office apprised about his comp time with weekly memos until Jones told him to stop.
“He said, ‘I don’t want any more memos,’ ” Bolton said. “I’m the one that put it in writing,” but Jones later told him to stop, “that he didn’t have time to read those things.”
Previously, Bolton routinely sent the CEO’s office notes on the amount of comp time he had accrued each week. Jones’ chief of staff, Ann Kimbrough, normally signed and returned them. In October 2007, Kimbrough returned a comp time report unsigned along with a note that said, “I am no longer signing these for the chief.”
Bolton continued to produce the memos regularly and kept them in his office. The records show he accrued 56 days of comp time after Kimbrough stopped signing the reports.
Merit System rules give Williams, the hearing officer, 20 days to render a decision. She said she thinks she’ll need 10 or 15 more days to assimilate all the information she’s been presented with, and attorneys for both sides said that’s OK by them.