Council stands by Campbell’s termination, silent on allegations against Mayor Hall
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
An outside investigator, Bruce Mills, has concluded that the Liberty Hill City Council was justified in terminating former Police Chief Maverick Campbell.
“It is my opinion that the City of Liberty Hill followed its policies and procedures in taking the actions that it did to terminate the employment of Maverick Campbell,” Mills said in the report conclusion.
In light of the report and its conclusion the City Council did not take any official action on a grievance at its May 26 meeting. Instead, the City issued a statement through Facebook calling the matter closed.
“The City engaged an outside investigator to review the City’s internal investigation and Mr. Campbell’s termination. His final conclusion speaks for itself: ‘Although the terms ‘willful misconduct’ and ‘gross negligence’ are not defined in the employment agreement between the City of Liberty Hill and Maverick Campbell, I believe that the chiefs’ actions, un-disputed, clearly violated those standards and warranted termination by the City of Liberty Hill.”
The investigation had been requested through a grievance filed with the City in April by Attorney Tiger Hanner on behalf of Campbell.
In the grievance, Hanner requested the City retain an independent investigator, which it did in Mills. But the extent of Mills’ investigation did not consider the nearly five-page statement from Campbell included in the grievance, which spells out an extensive list of allegations against Mayor Rick Hall regarding his involvement in the police department and relationship with Campbell. It instead focused on the incident at a conference in New Jersey between Campbell and his spouse that led to local police involvement. No arrests were made and no charges were filed in the incident.
“We had to look into whether his complaint that his termination was invalid or improper, and what steps were taken there,” said Liberty Hill City Attorney Tad Cleaves. “Maverick (Campbell’s) attorney requested that we hire an outside investigator to handle the grievance process, which the City did, and that investigator did his investigation and came back with a report saying the City followed its policies and that the termination was appropriate.”
But the two sides differ on their opinion of what should have been included in the investigation.
“He was looking into the City’s conduct as it related to the termination and whether the City followed its own policies,” Cleaves said. “If Maverick has complaints about the Mayor, whether that’s relevant to his firing, I don’t know.”
For Campbell, the lengthy statement was critical to the grievance and his request for an investigation.
“The reason I included all of the information about the Mayor’s behavior in my grievance was to show the pattern of abuse that I know led to my termination because of threats against my job by the Mayor,” Campbell said. “The incident in New Jersey was simply an excuse and he reacted on emotions instead of facts, making false claims of an arrest when there was no arrest.”
Campbell’s statement outlines nearly two years of what he calls increased involvement by Hall in department operations, pressure on certain personnel decisions, excessive ride alongs and other accusations.
Many of the comments and allegations in Campbell’s statement echo the allegations reported in The Independent in early March, all of which Hall continues to say are “absolutely” false.
“I can tell you this, that the comments made in there are not valid,” Hall said. “At the initial point some of these comments were made, Becky (Wilkins) spoke to every one of the employees and there was no comments from any of the employees that came remotely close to all that. This is the typical thing that happens with a disgruntled employee, or ex-employee trying to divert the real things from them to someone else to try to discredit somebody else when they’re the ones in trouble.”
In the investigation conducted by Mills, the report indicates he looked at the City’s initial investigation into Campbell’s conduct in New Jersey – conducted by Finance and Human Resources Director Becky Wilkins – and the supporting documentation. He also interviewed Wilkins and Hall, but no one else, including Campbell, as part of his investigation.
“We are not surprised by the outcome of the City investigation into Chief Campbell’s grievance,” said Campbell’s attorney Tiger Hanner. “The investigator never once called my office or spoke to Chief Campbell as part of his investigation. He never spoke to anyone in New Jersey affiliated with the conference. He merely rubber-stamped the City’s action.”
But Cleaves contends the investigation and subsequent Council decision addressed the requests in the grievance even without consideration of Campbell’s statement.
“As I think about the termination of Maverick Campbell, he went to New Jersey, we received phone calls from law enforcement in New Jersey raising lots of questions about Maverick Campbell’s conduct, so that’s why he was terminated,” Cleaves said. “The internal investigation turned up other details that were kicked off by Maverick Campbell’s activities in New Jersey. After he is fired he writes a letter with tons of allegations about misconduct from other people. It feels like a red herring situation, that’s why it is frustrating to me.”
Cleaves went on to say the two issues appear to be separate from one another in his opinion.
“If Maverick thinks he was fired for some other reason, if he wants to file a lawsuit, if he wants to do something like that it’s of course his right,” Cleaves said. “Anyone can always do that. But I don’t think that’s related at this point to the formal grievance that alleges the City didn’t follow its own policies. I think those two things are separate.”
Hall reiterated his belief that if the allegations were true they would have been made previously.
“In my opinion, when you bring up something that has supposedly happened for 18 to 20 months, after you’re terminated, but nothing is said before, then to me it looks like a witch hunt,” Hall said. “If any of it, even a small piece of it has any truth behind it, why wasn’t something said before?”
While the matter may be closed from the City’s perspective, Hanner said legal action is likely.
“At this point, we will be moving forward with appropriate legal action to address the City’s breach of Chief Campbell’s contract, as well as the actions of the Mayor,” he said.
The Independent requested a copy of Mills’ report on May 29, but by press time Wednesday had only received a copy from a different source.
Because the City Council did not take any action on the grievance there was no public discussion of the complaint and request.
None of the Council members were willing to discuss the allegations against Hall, with only Kathy Canady acknowledging she had seen the statement. She responded by saying she didn’t believe Campbell was a truthful person and that she didn’t know what might or might not happen in the future regarding the allegations against Hall.
“I’m not going to discuss what we talked about in executive session,” Canady said. “We agreed with the investigator on what our grievance was and that’s all we have to worry about. I have no faith in anything Maverick has to say. I focused on the investigation that we did and I focused on things I have seen Maverick do that negates anything he could probably tell me.”
Canady went on to say she didn’t need to look into the allegations in Campbell’s statement as the discussion was about Campbell, not Hall.
“I really haven’t had a chance to go look at every last word,” she said. “I went off the investigator’s report and that’s what interests me. The issue at that meeting was Maverick Campbell, not the Mayor.”
Canady would not say whether she would at any point in the future want to look into the allegations against Hall.
Who called who?
There continues to be one unresolved point of contention regarding how the City was notified of the New Jersey incident.
Hall indicated initially in March that the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) contacted the City following the incident. But Campbell’s attorney denied that claim, and Campbell has since said the call to Liberty Hill was made by LHPD Detective David Bonessi who was also in New Jersey. In two different interviews with the NJSP, The Independent was told no one involved in the incident from law enforcement in New Jersey did or would have called Liberty Hill about it.
In Mills’ report he wrote that Hall was contacted by LHPD Lt. Jeff Ringstaff about the incident, but never indicates the NJSP called the City.
Hall has provided the name of a lieutenant at the NJSP that he said contacted him, but The Independent has been unable to verify this through efforts to contact him.
This question remains important in determining just how the local investigation into Campbell began.
The Independent will continue to investigate this issue and the allegations raised in the grievance.