Police chief's lawyer sends council letter about potential exit

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COLUMBIA - A new chief of police could be on the horizon in Columbia. Recent events has led Chief Ken Burton to question his current status. Thad Mulholland is a lawyer at Eng & Woods law firm in Columbia, and is representing Burton. Mulholland sent a letter to Mayor Treece, six other city council members and City Manager Mike Mathes on Friday July 15.

The letter said Burton was advised the mayor is seeking support from the city council to remove him from his position as chief of police. Mulholland cited the Revised Statutes of Missouri and said there is no basis to call for Burton's removal. The statute also explains how Burton must be given a written notice by the appointing authority or governing body of intent to remove him. If Burton is given a written notice, it must be 10 days before a scheduled meeting where he can present his case to remain on as chief.

The letter also said that Burton will continue to fulfill his duties as chief to the best of his abilities, but it also said he would be open to negotiations regarding his removal. Mulholland wrote that the chief would consider monetary offers from the city in exchange for his exit.

Councilman Karl Skala said he was shocked when he read the letter because he said he never experienced any communication between the mayor and the city council about removing Burton. Skala also said that he does not know why the council would even be involved in the matter of determining the chief of police because the law does not allow it.

"Now the charter stipulates that the council has no roll in the hiring and firing of the police chief just policy issues and so on. That's entirely the purview of the city manager," Skala said.

Skala credited the work the chief has done in setting a new tone for the department. He also said that Burton did a good job geographically policing the city, but he failed to police the community in an effective way. 

Skala wanted to emphasize the need to address the issue of low morale within the department, with regards to shift length, and the need to create a system to decide whether there is a problem of racial profiling.

"It's hard for me to understand the justification the police chief has in terms of there is no profiling except on the occasional basis in the police department. It would appear that is not the case," Skala said.

Other members of the city council declined to comment because this is a matter of employment and they echoed Skala's opinion that the council has no business deciding the employment of the police chief.

KOMU received the letter from Skala and has reached out to the Columbia Police Department for comment. The department has not gotten back to us yet.

KOMU also reached out to the Eng & Woods, the law firm representing Chief Burton, and have not received a comment.