Police officer paid to stay home

Police officer paid to stay home (WKRC)

BLUE ASH, Ohio (WKRC) – It has been learned that a Tri-State police department paid an officer thousands of dollars not to work for nearly two years.

His time sheets looked like he reported for duty, but the reality is that he did not.

How did that happen and why did the city in question never make it public?

When Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell was fired by the city manager, it capped two years of controversy.

“Mr. Blackwell created a culture of hostility and retaliation in the department with the credibility of the CPD at risk,” said Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black.

But there was more. One year later, it came out that the city had paid Blackwell a $25,000 to head off a lawsuit. The deal was never revealed by the city. Reporters discovered it.

Now, Local 12 News has learned of another termination settlement involving a police officer in a different community, Blue Ash.

The circumstances were somewhat different, but one thing was the same. A big payment was kept quiet by the local government.

Now that Local 12 News has uncovered what happened, a long-time critic of government spending, who happens to live in Blue Ash, says what his city government did was wrong.

“Well the public had the right to know about this, and I’d like to know why council is not being straight with us,” said Jeff Capell, who is chairman of “No More Stadium Taxes.”

The Blue Ash officer was Sergeant Dennis Whitman, who was forced out after a long dispute with the city.

City documents show Whitman was kept on the payroll for nearly two years without doing any work. He never showed up, though police department work sheets indicate he was there for eight hours a day, 40 hours a week. It ended up totaling $69,000.

Another city worker filled out the work sheets, signing his own name for Whitman. Blue Ash officials say that process simply facilitated the severance and that “the time sheets were not intended to represent Sergeant Whitman's presence, but rather the payments made over time.”

But still, Harrington admits the $69,000 severance package was never made public.

This all happened several years ago, in early 2012 through early 2014, so why is it being reported now?

That’s simply because the information was a pretty well-kept secret until Local 12 found out. It was a secret which involves the police, the local government, and local taxpayer’s money.

Which is why Local 12 showed the documents to long-time, anti-tax crusader Jeff Capell, who is chairman of “No More Stadium Taxes” and now a candidate for Blue Ash city council. Jeff says Blue Ash should have let taxpayers know about the settlement:

“I wish I could say I was more surprised than I really am. Council has been entirely too insular for many years. It's been a small club, so to see that they secretly handled a settlement like this and not disclose it really isn't as surprising as you'd want it to be,” said Jeff.

A look at Dennis Whitman's personnel jacket shows a long and successful career, with quite a few commendations for good police work. So what happened? Open records requests were filed to find out more.

Additional documents show that Whitman and the Blue Ash Police Department got into a major fight in late 2011. Whitman had alleged departmental favoritism for some officers, alteration of documents, and lies by supervisors.

The department denied all of that, and following a 62-page internal investigation, the police chief recommended that Whitman be fired for breaking a variety of ordinances and departmental rules, including insubordination and conduct unbecoming a city employee.

The city and Whitman then signed a separation agreement. Whitman was demoted from sergeant to auxiliary police officer, although he never performed any auxiliary officer's duties.

In fact, he was not even allowed in the police station. His hourly pay was cut, but he was kept on for two years and allowed to accumulate more pension time

Thanks to the deal's not being made public, a potentially embarrassing situation in the police department was kept hidden from the taxpayers. The separation agreement and other documents were obtained as part of an open records request.

Blue Ash officials refused an on-camera interview, but in an emailed statement they said that the settlement was in the public interest.

“The city of Blue Ash entered into this separation agreement with Mr. Dennis Whitman to protect taxpayers. The agreement prevented Whitman and his attorney from filing a lawsuit against the city and while that lawsuit would have been unfounded, the litigation would have cost taxpayers exponentially more than the amount that Mr. Whitman received,” said the statement.

That's the same rationale Cincinnati officials used to justify not revealing the Jeffrey Blackwell deal.

However, a small number of states, are now banning or considering banning secret lawsuit settlements involving former public employees. As a result of the Blackwell case, the city of Cincinnati has done that as well.

Blue Ash, however, is not. Blue Ash officials may have indeed been correct, keeping this particular settlement secret was in the best interest of the taxpayers, but those taxpayers were not given the chance to decide for themselves.

Local 12 News spoke with both Sergeant Whitman and his attorney when investigating this story. Neither had any comment.

Local 12 News was contacted on Thursday afternoon by a new attorney for Whitman, who said the city of Blue Ash never gave Whitman the opportunity to inspect and possibly object to the city making certain documents public.

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