Palestine officers continue fight for new chief - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Palestine officers continue fight for new chief

Chief Robert Herbert. Source: KLTV Staff. Chief Robert Herbert. Source: KLTV Staff.
PALESTINE, TX (KLTV) - The City of Palestine says they will not terminate the police chief, despite his low morale and leadership ratings. The Texas Municipal Police Association says they were called on by Palestine Police Officers who say their chief, Robert Herbert, needs to go.

A management survey of the officers revealed that not a single one of them thinks the chief is a good leader, nor are they content working at the police department for the remainder for their careers. Tuesday night, the chief was expected to host a town hall meeting but it was canceled just moments before it was scheduled to begin. The city explained, "The original purpose of the Police Department Town Hall Meeting was to have an open dialogue on the services and activities in the Westwood neighborhood. A misrepresentation that the Town Hall Meeting is as a continuation of council session discussions will hinder our ability to provide citizens the information and the interaction they deserve."

However, a Monday night city council meeting is raising a lot of eyebrows because of the lack of information released after city leaders emerged from behind closed doors. During three hours in closed session, the city council said they would release information about their decision in a press release on Tuesday. The city did release their decision as promised, and it states:

"The Chief of Police and the City Council heard a great deal of comment regarding the issues in the Police Department. There were also a large number of comments regarding the positive steps the chief and the department have made to improve community relations.
The City Council and the City Manager will take immediate steps to work with the Chief of Police, and the line officers, to improve operation of the Police Department and to develop an improvement plan to address the specific issues facing the department."

Bill Aleshire, a former Travis County Judge and current volunteer attorney for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas says Palestine's actions at the end of their council meeting violate the Texas Open Meetings Act.   

"I think, in essence, what they're doing in the public meeting is keeping the secret among themselves not revealing what they're actually doing. A secret action by government is exactly what the Open Meetings Act is meant to prohibit, but it sounds to me that's exactly what they did [Monday] night," Aleshire says.

The City of Palestine says they disagree with that assessment. "I think everything that has been done by the council has even done under legal advice and in accord with the Texas Open Meetings Act," says city manager Wendy Ellis.

The six hour city council meeting Monday night was just the beginning of the city working-out issues within the police department. Tuesday morning, Palestine Police Chief Robert Herbert and City Manager Wendy Ellis held another meeting calling on Palestine Police officers to join them in working through problems within the department.

"Most of the officers left feeling pretty dejected and there were a couple of comments about some of the officers searching for jobs as early as today," explains Texas Municipal Police Association Lead Field Representative Noel Johnson. Johnson has served as the spokesperson for the Palestine officers who do not want to speak with the media.

Standing before the city council on Monday, at least a dozen officers specifically explained why they think the chief is not a good leader. Their complaints including instances of disrespect, lack of training for officers, failure to hire and retain enough officers to cover shifts, retaliation, low morale, unprofessionalism and questionable orders.

"Twenty-nine of them made their voices heard and the city manager made it very clear that there are two sides to this issue. The chief's side and every other employee at the police department's," explained Johnson.

Palestine Mayor Therrell Thomas would not discuss the city council's decision regarding the police chief. Thomas says the issue involving the chief is a personnel matter that will remain private. 

Officers are calling on the city to appoint an interim chief while things are sorted out, but the city manager says they have no plan to appoint an interim chief. Monday night there were about a dozen community members speaking in favor of the police chief, but none of them were police officers. They told the city council that race relations in Palestine have improved since the chief was hired in 2011.

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