Two councilmen surprised by timing of Alexander firing
© Culpeper Times
“We thought we were just going to listen to her lay out what had been found regarding the investigation of (Culpeper Police Captain) Chris Settle said councilman David Lochridge. “We knew the investigation was nearing an end and we wanted to hear from the town manager about its status and, possibly, what discipline – if any – she was going to recommend.”
Lochridge, along with Vice Mayor Mike Olinger and councilman Jim Risner asked for the special meeting. Councilman Dan Boring was out of the country and Mayor Chip Coleman was dealing with a health issue. Both were unable to attend.
After a 70-minute closed door session, during part of which Alexander was in attendance, the council reconvened in public session and voted 5-2 to fire Alexander just short of 17 months into her tenure. Olinger and Lochridge were the two votes in opposition to Alexander's termination.
“I didn't think it was the intent of the meeting to terminate her that night,”
Both Olinger and Lochridge stressed that they believe Alexander should have been allowed to complete the investigation.
“All I wanted was for her to be able to do her job and personnel issues are her job,” Olinger said. “Neither Dave nor I have commented on her ability or performance. We just said let her do her job.”
“We were not trying to protect her. After the investigation was concluded and she had made her recommendation, if we determined she was not doing her job, then take action. She was literally two days from making her recommendation on Settle. The timing of firing her at that point didn't look good.”
'Good ol' boys'
Alexander spoke candidly last Thursday in an interview at Frost Cafe in downtown Culpeper of the investigation into alleged misconduct by Settle and of other issues and perceptions with which she has dealt.
She said she has contacted an attorney to see what her legal options might be as a result of her termination, said that there has been much misinformation about the investigation.
She also said she feels she was treated differently because she is a woman.
“There's a 'good ol' boy' network in this town and I was not part of the 'family,” she said. Let's just say if it was Brannon Godfrey or Jeff Muzzy (Alexander's two immediate predecessors as town manager) I don't think things would have been said that have been said about me.”
Olinger said he has come to “despise the phrase 'good ol' boy network' and doesn't believe that was at play in Alexander's termination.
He pointed out that three of the five finalists for the town manager position when Alexander was hired were women.
Alexander said she began to receive complaints about Settle in the summer of 2012. He has been with the town police for 15 years. She began to gather notarized affidavits from those making the complaints so she would have legal grounds to begin an investigation.
“There was just too much too ignore,” she said of the complaints. “I had 15 people coming to me and telling me the same thing and some of them were law enforcement officers.”
She said that in September she was told by the council to stop the investigation.
“When I talked about it with council they were very upset,” she said. “I had just started it one week ago, but they told me I was spending too much time on this and said they didn't want me to do anything further.”
Alexander said she then contacted the town attorney since she believed that according to the town charter and her job description, personnel issues were clearly part of her responsibilities.
She said she had also been told prior to launching the Settle investigation that she “needed to get a handle” on the police department following the shooting death of a woman in downtown Culpeper. Former Culpeper police officer Daniel Harmon-Wright was convicted of voluntary manslaughter Tuesday afternoon in that case.
“The town attorney told me that the council couldn't tell me what to do with a personnel issue but 'they've given you an order to stop talking to these people so if you violate that order they can fire you for insubordination.'”
Alexander said she has seen the investigation called “her investigation.” She clarified that point.
“The town attorney hired the investigator and the council gave him certain parameters such as not investigating any complaints more than two years old,” she said. “I had no input into that and after that I was not involved in the investigation. I realized I didn't have the skills or background to do that type of investigation and that's why I went to the town attorney.
It has been reported there were 39 allegations against Settle – Alexander refused to confirm or deny that number. He was placed on paid administrative leave. That remains the case as of Tuesday.
Alexander said that since it is a personnel issue she would not discuss the specifics of the investigation or even which – if any-- of the charges had been substantiated.
“If Chris Settle is willing to sign a waiver that he's not going to sue me for talking about this, I will give you all the information you want,” she said. “I will tell you everything.”
Alexander, 35, said the investigation, which she said cost “about $7,000” had been completed and she had reviewed Settles personnel history.
“I had planned to demote him from captain to lieutenant,” she said.
Alexander said she feels that there are some on the town council who did not want to see the demotion take place and that led to firing her before she could officially take action.
“I don't regret what I did,” she said. “It was absolutely the right thing to do. I clearly saw the writing on the wall after the first meeting [about this] with council. I knew this was probably how it was going to end up.”
Hively steps in
With Alexander out of the picture, the Times asked Mayor Coleman what the status of the investigation now was. His reply came through Wally Bunker, town public information officer.
“Until Wednesday morning (Jan. 23) Acting Town Manger Chris Hively (named to his post several months ago) was unfamiliar with the facts, details and circumstances of the situation,” Bunker wrote in an e-mail Sunday night. “In all fairness to everyone involved, it will take some time for him to review the matter.
“As part of that review, he will consult with the town's legal counsel, police chief and human resources manager. From that review and consultations, Mr. Hively will determine the proper process to follow. He wants a fair review of the facts that results in a complete, fair and impartial review for (Settle).
Alexander, per her contract with the town, received six months severance pay, about $60,000. She said she does not plan to continue to live in Culpeper. She said she enjoys art and may take time to explore “her hippie side” and stay out of government service for awhile.
She said she believes Settle will be reinstated to his command position and she feels sorry for all those who brought complaints whom she had promised to help.
“There are officers who have told me they don't want to continue to work under the current conditions at the police department,” she said. “I don't regret what I did. If things need to be changed sometimes you have to help change them. Unfortunately sometimes that gets you fired.”
Asked for a response to Alexander's comments, Hively said via e-mail: “We have many important issues to address as a town in the immediate future, including the budget, we must move forward.”
Lochridge and Olinger said Monday they did not understand the need to fire Alexander at the special meeting.
“What was the urgency?” Lochridge said. “We (Mike and I) couldn't find any reason not to allow her to finish the probe. She should have been allowed to finish what she started. If we were talking four or five months more that is one thing, but we were talking days. Then the full council could have evaluated her actions and job performance.”
He said Alexander should have been evaluated solely on performance.
“We've got to stop looking at the 'who' and ask the 'what' questions,” he said. “She received verified complaints and based on those complaints she started an investigation. That's the 'what'. That's how you proceed. If we had let her finish it would have been fair to Chris and fair to the public and dispelled any theory of a coverup.”
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