Bluffton Town Manager Anthony Barrett said Monday he will take action against Police Chief David McAllister for complaints some of the chief's own officers have made against him.
Barrett declined to specify what the complaints were or what action he will take, though he said it would happen sometime this week.
McAllister said Monday town officials haven't provided him with particulars about the complaints. He said he was unaware before Monday of Barrett's intent to take action against him.
In an interview at Bluffton Town Hall Monday, Barrett said he began hearing officers' complaints about McAllister two weeks after he took over as the new town manager on Sept. 1.
Barrett said he, Mayor Lisa Sulka and Mayor pro tempore Fred Hamilton met with McAllister several weeks ago to discuss a new employee grievance policy to channel the complaints. Though the police department already has a grievance policy, Barrett said he wanted a new town-wide policy that would involve the human resources department and allow employees to also come to him with complaints.
During that meeting, Hamilton confronted McAllister about complaints he'd heard from residents and one bar bouncer about the police chief drinking after working hours, Hamilton said Monday. They'd reported seeing McAllister drinking, then leaving the bar in his town-issued car, Hamilton said.
"Even if you just have one drink, if you leave in your town car, it doesn't look good. It doesn't feel good," Hamilton said. "If you have a drink, it's your business. But when you're the police chief, it's everybody's business. I told him they (the public) hold you to a higher standard."
McAllister said he doesn't recall that conversation and that allegations he has driven home in his town-issued car after drinking are untrue.
"Those are rumors," he said.
In a separate interview earlier Monday, McAllister said he occasionally goes out for dinner or drinks with his wife or friends. Having previously run a 357-member department in New Castle County, Del., McAllister said he had to adjust to Bluffton, where people recognize him at restaurants and bars.
"That's the lesson you have to learn when you move to a small town," he said.
Of the complaints about drinking, McAllister said: "If the perception is there, then I need to work to change it -- change whatever behavior I may or may not be doing."
Barrett said he met last week with "a group" of Bluffton officers -- he declined to say how many -- to listen to grievances against McAllister. There are 36 sworn officers in the department, McAllister said.
That meeting was Sept. 30, according to an e-mail Barrett wrote to the five-member council and town attorney Terry Finger later the same day. In the e-mail, Barrett stated he and human resources director Jessie Hershey met with the officers to discuss "their individual and collective concerns about police department operations and leadership."
They discussed the officers' "concerns and fears about how discipline, individual treatment, promotions, departmental expectations and regulations are applied or not applied," Barrett wrote in the e-mail, which he provided to The Island Packet on Monday.
Barrett declined to elaborate on any of the issues discussed during the meeting with the officers.
"There are some things in the police department that I will not talk about," he said, adding the issues had "a lot of moving parts."
Barrett confirmed that several officers reported that high-ranking officials in the police department made threats against those who planned to attend the meeting. He said he "put a stop to that" and told them "nothing was going to happen to them" if they attended.
According to his Sept. 30 e-mail to council members, Barrett told the officers he "would not tolerate any interference with any employee's ability to speak with me about anything" and that he "wanted to know immediately if any of them were questioned about their attendance at the meeting or (about) any pressure from anyone related to their attendance."
McAllister said he didn't know the specific complaints his officers have made against him.
"I would like (town officials) to share that with me," he said. "(Barrett) has assured me I will get that opportunity" to respond to allegations, he said.
"I'm hearing that there are people that wouldn't want me to be chief of police anymore," he said. "I make decisions every day that aren't always popular. Certainly there are people that don't like me."
He also said the allegations have caught him "a little off guard."
"Everything was fine six months ago," he said.
Of the town manager's stated intention to take action against him, McAllister said, "I work at his pleasure. ... He needs to let us know what his expectations are so I can meet them."
McAllister, hired in 2006, led the process to get the Bluffton department nationally accredited earlier this year. He said he likes working for the town and has made a home here.
"If these are minor complaints, we can move through them," he said. "My preference is to work through them. ... I'm not looking to make a nomadic life of my career."