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Crowd packs Smithsburg council meeting to protest chief's firing

September 03, 1997

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

SMITHSBURG - An overflow crowd packed the Smithsburg Town Council meeting Tuesday to protest the firing of Police Chief Tommy Bowers.

But when the mud began to fly, town attorney Ed Kuczynski warned the mayor and Town Council not to respond because doing so might give Bowers ammunition for a lawsuit.

"If (Bowers) turns the gun and points it at the council, he's pointing it at every one of you. The taxpayers will pay the burden," Kuczynski said.

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Tuesday's hour-long barrage was just the latest in a string of public attacks on Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers and council members since Aug. 13, when Bowers was relieved of his duties.

About 50 people crammed into the classroom-sized meeting room and another 20 people stood outside. Bowers was not present.

Sherry Owens presented a petition she said contained 586 signatures asking the town to reinstate Bowers.

"This is your public talking to you," she said.

Smithsburg has a population of 1,221.

Myers said after the meeting that she and the council were standing by their decision.

"We appreciate people's comments and their concerns. It was a difficult decision to have to make," she said.

Among those who spoke in support of Bowers was former Councilman Tim Haines and retired police officer Melvin Smith.

"Someone should not be allowed to be driven out due to personality conflicts. We the people make a difference and we the people think that stinks," Haines said.

Smith said reasons the town has given for the termination are not grounds for dismissal at most police departments.

"I'm a little disturbed and a little disappointed at the way the council has handled this situation. Tommy Bowers is a human being. Tommy Bowers gave everything he could to this community," Smith said.

The council has cited several reasons for dismissing Bowers, including a failure to file certain reports and meet regularly with the mayor.

Also, Bowers wrecked his police cruiser and didn't properly report the single-car accident, they said.

A revised estimate put the damage at more than $1,000, Myers said.

Legally, town officials didn't need a reason to fire Bowers, Kuczynski said.

Domer Ulery videotaped the meeting, saying he wanted to catch council members in lies.

"They know they've done wrong. They just ain't big enough to admit it," he said.

Residents expressed fear that law and order left town when Bowers left the chief's job.

"People's running up and down our streets like they're nuts and it's all because of this," said Jacob Keller.

Myers said the town has hired Washington County sheriff's deputies to aid Officer Shawn Tyler with police protection.

An officer was present at the meeting for crowd control, but the group was peaceful.

One woman, Debi Pisko, spoke in support of the decision to fire Bowers.

Pisko said one complaint she had against Bowers was that he did not enforce the law requiring children to wear helmets when riding bicycles.

The removal of Bowers has caused such an uproar in the town that a group led by Owens is meeting at 7 p.m. Friday to discuss plans for a recall election.

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