Disputes with elected officials and management issues in the police department led to the demotion of Trafalgar’s longtime police chief, town officials said.
The Trafalgar Town Council and board of metropolitan police commissioners both approved demoting Trafalgar Police Chief Kurt Heminger. Charles Roberts was selected as interim police chief.
Personnel issues, an ongoing dispute with clerk-treasurer Dawn Ray and job performance were among the reasons the council decided to demote Heminger, town council president Jeff Eisenmenger said.
The town council approved demoting Heminger by a 3-2 vote. Eisenmenger, Betty Davis and Scott Ray voted for the measure, and Eric Woodke and David Moore voted against. The police merit commission unanimously approved the demotion, Davis said.
The police commission and council demoted Heminger because of personal reasons and not because he was doing a poor job running the four-officer police department, Moore said.
“I’ve always heard of a kangaroo court, and I honestly never thought I’d be involved in something like that,” Moore said.
About 60 people filled the town council meeting room last week to show support for Heminger, said town resident Donna Moore, who is David Moore’s sister. Heminger is respected by residents, including teenagers, she said.
State law is unclear on whether a town council or police commission has the authority to demote a police chief, so both boards met in a joint meeting to approve the demotion, town council attorney Anne McGuinness said. A police chief, like any other department manager, is appointed by the council and can be changed at will, McGuinness said.
Since Heminger was not fired, the town didn’t need to provide evidence or reasoning of why they were making the change, McGuinness said.
“There is a difference between demotion and termination, and this was not a termination,” McGuinness said.
Heminger and Ray were not available for comment. Police commission president Jim Stump and town council member Eric Woodke declined to comment. Other members of the police commission could not be reached Tuesday.
Eisenmenger and Davis, who voted in favor of demoting Heminger, both said a change in leadership would benefit the department.
Heminger had an ongoing dispute with Dawn Ray, would neglect his job as police chief to do work for his personal business and had issues with personnel in the department, Eisenmenger said. Eisenmenger declined to provide more details or specific examples of incidents that had occurred.
The police commission or council has not issued any written reprimands to Heminger and there has been no disciplinary action, such as suspensions, taken against him, Eisenmenger said. Eisenmenger said the town council has verbally reprimanded Heminger.
“The council feels that we wanted to retain him as a patrolman. We feel he’s a good officer, just not the right leader for our police department,” Eisenmenger said.
Heminger had repeatedly asked for information about the police department’s budget, because he was being told by officials that there was no money available to purchase supplies, such as bullets that the town needed, David Moore said. Town officials also didn’t like how Heminger handled the police department schedule, he said.
David Moore also questioned whether Scott Ray, who is the clerk-treasurer’s husband, should have excused himself from the vote since the dispute was one of the factors playing into the decision. Scott Ray was legally allowed to vote on Heminger’s demotion because the issue did not directly benefit him or his wife, McGuinness said.
The demotion will result in about a $10,000 decrease in pay for Heminger, Eisenmenger said.