At their September meeting, the New Buffalo City Council members appeared agitated with residents who weren’t satisfied when the council voted to force an early retirement on Police Chief Pitchford because they legally could without comment or debate, strongly suggesting they had fully discussed this in advance. Pitchford intended to retire in November so City Manager Richards’ rush to push the Chief out now because he is ‘moving the city in a new direction’ rings hollow since this week Richards advertised for a new police chief, same position, new personnel. Perhaps it was simply part of the City’s recent austerity measures to save the City some cash on a gold watch and retirement party for a well respected employee of over forty years but most likely it was something else entirely.
Street Supervisor Tony Ashbaugh appeared to have Chief Pitchford in his sights since he first submitted to City Manager Rob Anderson a Request for Investigation on September 29, 2016 that began a $10,000 ethics investigation into Pitchford’s behavior on the job. Ashbaugh Request for Investigation And although Pitchford was cleared of any and all wrongdoing by Attorney Sara Bell and a vote by Council members, there are many people who believe the forced early retirement of the Chief was a byproduct of some unresolved resentment toward the Chief.
On September 2, 2017, Berrien County Judge Wiley reaffirmed his previous ruling made a month earlier that the incriminating videos of Ashbaugh were public property. But Ashbaugh always blamed the police chief for handing the damaging public surveillance videos over to City Manager Anderson as evident by filing a baseless federal lawsuit against the Chief for illegal wiretapping after the ethics complaint failed. Knowing that lawsuit will become moot when the videos are made public on Monday, Ashbaugh used his time on TV 57 to his advantage.
During a TV 57 news segment on September 2, 2017, while Ashbaugh held a pity party for himself, he couldn’t resist kicking Ptichford one more time. While interviewing Ashbaugh, the reporter held up an August 26, 2016 memo from City Manager Anderson to Pitchford reprimanding him for questionable behavior in his handling of the public surveillance videos. The interesting aspect of this memorandum was it was supposed to be expunged from Pitchford’s personnel file after the City Council accepted the results of the November 2016 investigation presented by Attorney Sara Bell clearing Pitchford of all wrongdoing. Sara Bell’s Report (note page 6 of the report)
How was it that Ashbaugh had a copy of Larry Pitchford’s expunged reprimand? If it had been left in Pitchford’s file, Ashbaugh would have had to complete a FOIA request for it just like any other citizen. But as of June 20, 2017, only myself and Rusty Geisler had requested a copy through a FOIA request and although I received the document, I knew it had been legally expunged and that I shouldn’t have been given it. After reviewing Bell’s report, the mayor ensured the document was no longer the part of a public record.
I only requested the document because I was being hounded by a man identifying himself as ‘oldsmokinman@aol. com. He had a copy of Pitchford’s reprimand memo and was insisting that I put it on my blog. I would not publish the memo but tried to determine this person’s identity by completing the FOIA request. How did old smokin man and Asbaugh receive a copy, and why did they want to share it with the public since the City Council voted in November 2016 to accept that Pitchford had acted ethically and according to the standards of City policy? Ongoing grudges most likely.
Below is one of the email threads between me and firstname.lastname@example.org. After I sent this email, I never heard from him again.
Date: July 16, 2017 at 5:41 PM
Subject: Re: Your hypocrisy is as great as your partisanship.
As I said, I need to know how you got Larry Pitchford’s reprimand before I post it. I am not going to post a document that was illegally gained. There are only three ways you could have gotten a copy, one being through a FOIA request; you didn’t get it that way, two; you are a city employee and took a copy out of his file’ or three; you are a friend or relative of an employee of a city employee and they took a copy out for you. Only one of these three ways are legal.
Since this dialog started between us, I reviewed the video from the November 15, 2016 city council meeting when Attorney Sarah Bell stated that after her ten thousand dollar investigation, she found that Chief Pitchford had completed his job duties according to established city protocols and that she found no behavior that was considered unethical or unprofessional – after that, Rob Anderson was supposed to expunged it from Pitchford’s file. The reprimand did not accurately reflect the Chief’s performance according to Ms. Bell. The city council voted unanimously to support her and the contents of her report, this means they agreed that Pitchford had done nothing wrong in the way he handled the video and followed the correct protocol as established by the city since the video equipment was first installed. There are two ways that the reprimand has continued to be in the Chief’s personnel file. Rob Anderson never took it out as directed by the vote of the city council or an employee of the city made a copy of it when during the two and a half months it was in his file and put a new copy in his file after Anderson removed it.
I invite you to watch the video of November 15, 2016 for your own confirmation of the findings of Ms. Bell. She was quite explicit that Pitchford did his job correctly and ethically.
The risk management company attorney representing the city in Ray Kirkus’ FOIA court case recently conceded that the videos made through the public surveillance equipment last August are public information instead of their previous position that the videos were a private conversation – now they are claiming that the refusal to release them to the public is due to the privacy clause of the Freedom of Information Act. I have no doubt that this will be ruled against because even Ashbaugh stated in a public document that the conversation was absolutely work related – work related conversations by city employees within city hall, whether documented on a video, through an email, or even if texted are public property. It is only time before you will be able to view Ashbaugh and Lembrix on a you tube that will be all over the internet. And perhaps there is nothing on those videos that is bad behavior although Ashbaugh was reprimand by Anderson for his behavior on the public videos. (By the way, Ashbaugh would have included Anderson in his lawsuit against me and the others if Anderson had used an illegally recorded conversation as the basis of a reprimand. Ashbaugh’s omission of Anderson supports my defense).
But since the city attorneys who first maintained the videos were private conversations are now conceding that they are actually public helps me since Ashbaugh is maintaining that it is an illegally recorded conversation.
Do you really think I have an obligation to give praises on my own blog to a man who is suing me for $210.000?
On July 16, 2017 at 4:48 PM oldsmokinman wrote:
My latest “submittal” which I’m sure you’ll have a very ethical reason not to post.