Smithsburg's new chief takes oath tonight

January 19, 1998

Smithsburg's new chief takes oath tonight


Staff Writer

SMITHSBURG - Town officials tonight will swear in the new police chief, filling a position that has been vacant since August when the mayor and Town Council dismissed Tommy Bowers from the post.

Town officials would not reveal the new chief's identity.

"He is highly experienced and well-recommended," Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers said.

The new chief will be walking into a situation that roused emotions in Smithsburg.

Bowers has refused to concede his termination and this month filed an appeal of a U.S. District Court ruling that found Myers did not exceed her authority in dismissing him.


"I just don't give up too easy," Bowers said. "Somebody's going to be stepping into an awful mess I pity the new chief."

In dismissing Bowers, town officials cited what they said were deficiencies in the way he handled his duties.

A letter signed by Myers and council members said the chief failed to keep up with paperwork, failed to meet with Myers and the town's other officer and failed to adequately handle and investigate citizen complaints against the police department.

The three-line notice of appeal, filed Jan. 5 in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, asks the court to overturn the December decision of U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg, who ruled the mayor had a legal right to hire and fire the police chief without cause.

The appeal does not prevent the town from hiring a new chief, but Bowers' attorney, Lewis C. Metzner, said the town could be putting itself in an uncomfortable position.

"If the federal (appeals) court rules Tommy's still the chief then I guess they got to deal with their new hire," he said.

Noting the ruling in U.S. District Court, Town Attorney Edward Kuczynski said the town has every reason to be confident its decision will be reaffirmed.

If not, Kuczynski said, "I guess we'll have to face that decision when it arises."

Hiring of a new chief could place Bowers in an uncomfortable position. He has said he does not want to return as chief at the expense of someone else.

But Bowers said on Monday that he needs a favorable ruling to restore his reputation.

"I need to be cleared," he said.

Myers said the total cost of the Bowers case - including legal fees, the cost of contracting with the Washington County Sheriff's Department while an injunction was in place and other expenses - is between $15,000 to $18,000 so far.

The town's insurance policy will pay part of that tab; taxpayers will pay the rest.

"All these actions is creating a heavy price tag for our taxpayers," she said.

Bowers, however, said Myers and council members could have avoided legal costs by giving him a due-process hearing.

"She could have chosen to do this a different way. She's not going to put the blame on me," he said.

Alluding to town elections on May 12, Bowers predicted Myers will not be in office long.

"Her day will come in May," he said.

The town also will vote in May for two council members and on a ballot initiative that would amend the Town Charter to allow voters to recall elected officials before their terms end.

Myers has announced plans to run for re-election; Councilman Gene Pryor said he is not running for re-election and Councilman Joseph Slick said he is considering a bid.

Sherry Owen, a town resident who led the drive to gather signatures to put the measure on the ballot, said several people are considering challenging Myers and running for council.

She said she hopes Bowers' supporters treat the new chief with respect and suggested he be prepared if he falls out of favor with the mayor.

"I can offer him some advice: Have a contract drawn up so it doesn't happen to him," she said.

Staff Writer Laura Ernde contributed to this story.

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