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Ex-chief seeks help from federal court

October 14, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

SMITHSBURG - Former Police Chief Tommy Bowers has asked a federal court to prevent Smithsburg from hiring a permanent replacement until his civil suit against the town is resolved, his attorney said Monday.

Lewis C. Metzner, one of Bowers' lawyers, said Bowers made the motion in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Thursday. It seeks a temporary restraining order that would prevent the town from hiring a permanent chief, Metzner said. He said the town still could hire an interim chief.

Metzner said he does not know when the court will act on the request.

"Hopefully, soon," he said.

Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers and the Town Council terminated Smith on Aug. 12 citing problems with his performance.

Bowers denied many of the allegations and filed suit on Oct. 6, claiming he was never granted a hearing to defend himself.

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If the court grants the restraining order, the town could be without a permanent police chief for months or even years. Myers said Monday that the town has narrowed its search from 43 applicants to three finalists. Since Bowers was dismissed, the town has contracted with the Washington County Sheriff's Department for police service.

Myers declined to comment on the motion, referring questions to Edward L. Kuczynski, the town's attorney.

"It just tries to keep the town from having the proper police protection," Myers said.

Kuczynski did not return a phone call to his home Monday night.

Metzner said the suit should be resolved before the town hires a permanent replacement.

"It makes sense, if in fact he was not legally fired then our position is the town should not be able to hire someone permanently," he said.

Metzner also said there is "a significant question as to whether the firing even occurred."

He said Maryland law prevents the town from firing Bowers in executive session, which it did.

"That law is pretty crystal clear," Metzner said. "I think they have significant problems. The open-meeting law, to me, is pretty open-and-shut."

Metzner said Bowers remains committed to his view that the town acted improperly when it dismissed him. His suit, which asks for reinstatement and back pay, contends that the town should have given him a hearing to discuss reasons for terminating him.

Town officials, in their termination letter, initially said Bowers was dismissed after a three-month review.

In a public statement a week later, the mayor and council cited deficiencies ranging from failure to complete crime reports and post schedules to failing to adequately investigate citizen complaints against the department.

The suit contends that state law supersedes the Town Charter, which grants the mayor broad powers to hire and fire the police chief. Beyond the law, Metzner said town officials should have given Bowers a chance to answer to the allegations out of fairness.

"Politically, it's a very foolish thing to do. They should have given him notice. They should have given him a chance to respond," he said.

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