“As of today (Thursday, Jan. 22) Steve Blevins’ request to be reinstated to the police department as a lieutenant with no more than a five percent pay cut has been granted,” Howell said.
Blevins said the Fort Oglethorpe City Council agreed to the stipulations when he was hired as police chief in June 2002.
“I am still employed with the City of Fort Oglethorpe,” Blevins said. “I hope to be here for a long time to come.”
City attorney Ron Goulart said Jan. 21, that since the City Council has not voted to ratify Blevins’ termination, his re-instatement to the department as a lieutenant would be considered a voluntary request for demotion and does not require council approval.
Howell fired Blevins Jan. 15 for unspecified reasons and gave him a tentative deadline of Jan. 19, to accept his termination or return to the department as a patrolman. The interim city manager named Deputy Chief Johnnie “Red” Smith, a 22-year department veteran, as interim police chief.
Howell previously worked under Blevins as a training officer at the police department until he was appointed interim city manager Jan. 2 by the City Council, following a 3-2 council vote to terminate City Manager Paul Page.
Blevins, who is on administrative leave, said he will return to the department on Jan. 28. The former police chief filed a written request with Howell Jan. 16 asking the city to re-instate him to the police department per the unanimous City Council agreement from 2002.
Fort Oglethorpe officer Jeff Holcomb, who declared his candidacy for Catoosa County Sheriff late last year, said morale in the department is better since Blevins was demoted.
“I haven’t seen the morale this high since I’ve been here,” he said.
Another officer who requested that his name not be used said “morale was good.”
Several officers questioned said they had no comment on the change in police department leadership.
Councilman Ronnie Cobb said he has been informed by an inside source that there were three reasons Howell gave Blevins for his termination. He said one of those accusations was that Blevins improperly handled a legal issue or fixed a ticket involving Cobb’s son, which both Cobb and Blevins have denied.
The other two accusations were that Blevins lied during a dismissal hearing for officer Holcomb, and that he followed improper procedure when he promoted David Scroggins to chief of detectives without advertising outside of the department, Cobb said.
Both Cobb and Blevins said the accusations are patently untrue. Cobb said the charges were trumped up to allow the city manager to force Blevins out as police chief.
In a written response to Howell following his termination, the former police chief states:
“First, let me say that I deny all allegations made about me in your (Howell’s) memo. The use of any such allegations is completely unnecessary in moving me to another position and will only put the city, my family and me through a long, drawn out process.”
Blevins declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations, saying he did not want to create further conflict between he and city officials.
Howell also declined to comment on the specifics behind Blevins’ firing.
“I would be doing Steve Blevins a terrible injustice to put anything out that might prejudice anyone against him if this ever came to a hearing,” Howell said on Jan. 21.
The Catoosa County News has filed an open records request with the City Of Fort Oglethorpe to obtain a copy of Howell’s termination memo to Blevins stating the reasons for his firing. A response is expected by Jan. 28.
Confusion in the city?
Earlier in the week, confusion appeared to be the reigning factor in Fort Oglethorpe city government, with three conflicting reports coming from three different public officials concerning the status of Blevins’ employment with the police department.
Howell said Jan. 21 that contrary to media reports, the future of the former police chief was still undetermined; but Blevins said he was re-instated to the police department by Howell on Tuesday, with the condition that he return to his former rank of lieutenant and receive no more than a five percent pay cut.
City attorney Ron Goulart said Wednesday afternoon (Jan.21) that he was “almost certain” Blevins had been re-instated as a lieutenant.
Following four phone messages left Jan. 19 on Howell’s voice mail, two on Jan. 20 and two more Jan. 21 asking him to discuss Blevins’ future with the police department, Howell finally called The Catoosa County News late Wednesday and said he could not comment specifically on negotiations with Blevins because it would be improper to discuss personnel issues until they are finalized.
Howell said he has been unable to return phone calls to the media because he is responsible for many other departments besides the police department, and his schedule has been too hectic to return calls