Commonwealth Journal

October 2, 2013

Terminated police chief at odds with mayor over Eubank’s resources

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Eubank —

Was the police chief of Eubank let go because he caught on to illegal activities among city leadership?
If you believe the former chief in question, then yes. If you believe the mayor of the small northern Pulaski County community, then no.
Luther Blanton, who had served as chief of Eubank Police for two years prior to last week, was recently fired from that position by Mayor Frey Todd and replaced by Colin Hatfield, Blanton’s second-in-command in Eubank. 
The city had only two police department positions, those having belonged to Blanton and Hatfield, the latter of whom had been with Eubank Police since May.
Blanton said that the firing came “as a surprise,” and alleged that it came after he’d brought information regarding misuse of city property to the attention of the city council.
“I’d been asking for over a year for (these activities) to stop, and they hadn’t stopped,” he said. “I asked (the council) to do something about it at the last meeting.”
Blanton said that he’d spoken with councilors personally after the meeting and advised them that the activities needed to stop “because they make Eubank look bad.”
According to the former chief, the activities in question involved “misuse” of dump trucks and backhoes, as well as labor by inmates of the Pulaski County Detention Center to do yard work on private property.
“All I asked the mayor and council to do was to follow the laws of Kentucky,” he said. “When the citizens of Eubank are paying for an employee to work for the citizens of Eubank and that person is out mowing the yard on private property while the citizens are paying them, that’s wrong.”
Todd countered that it’s not illegal in Eubank, because city law holds that individuals can pay to have such labor done on their property.
“The city has in effect (a law) as far as mowing grass for people who ask for it,” he said. “The city charges for it, people pay for it. As long as they pay the bill, there’s not any abuse going on, according to the rules (Eubank) has in effect. Nobody uses any equipment or mowers unless they pay the bill. ... There’s nothing wrong with it when they do that.”
As such, Todd said that Blanton is “wrong” in his allegations.
“What he’s thinking, there’s not much truth to it,” said Todd.
Bruce Orwin, a local lawyer who also serves as Eubank’s city attorney, said that as far as he knew, Todd was correct about the city’s pay-for-use policy, and that it did not violate any state laws.
Orwin also said that all city employees’ services are at the whim of the mayor, and if Todd felt that Blanton wasn’t doing his job, that the mayor could terminate him.
Blanton said that he was released without notice and without the city council knowing anything about it.
“I question how many did know,” he said. “Maybe one or two.”
City councilor Connie Belcher contacted the Commonwealth Journal Wednesday and said that she hadn’t known anything about Blanton’s firing until after the fact.
“Friday morning, Chief Blanton came into my grocery and showed me the (newspaper article) saying he’d been terminated,” she said. “We (the council) never discussed anything about his dismissal, nothing to do with his ethics. I record all the meetings, but I can’t seem to come up with anything. He did a good job as far as I know.”
She said that when Blanton was hired, the council called a special meeting for a Saturday and voted to hire him. She noted that while the mayor may have the power to make the decisions on his own, “it maybe would have been considerate and polite (to bring the termination to the council) so we all could have been aware.”
As that didn’t happen, Belcher said that she felt “blindsided” by the decision.
Council Edward Hicks declined to comment on the matter when contacted by the Commonwealth Journal, but did say that “most of the council was advised” about the firing.
A call to councilor Larry Wheeldon was not immediately returned. 
Todd said he didn’t need to contact the city council about the decision to let Blanton go.
“I had the authority to do it,” he said, “so I did it.”
Bill Jones is the other councilor for Eubank.
Blanton is a Eubank native who returned to the community after having served in numerous law enforcement-related functions elsewhere, including the position of sheriff in Montgomery County, Indiana.
He said that the matter of misuse of city resources — by individuals including, according to Blanton, the mayor and members of the city’s water company — is currently “under investigation,” but he would not say by whom.
“It may be multiple agencies working on it before it’s done,” he said, “because it’s not only state laws that have been violated, but federal laws violated.”
He said he’d brought the matter up to the council more than a year ago but “got nothing but roadblocks by the mayor and certain members of the council at that time.”
Blanton added that he’s “not disgruntled” but just “concerned about the people of Eubank” and how their money is being spent. He said that he was “most definitely” let go unfairly.
“If you talk to the people of Eubank, you’ll find they were extremely happy with me,” he said. “ ... I came here to help Eubank do better in the world.”
Earlier in the week, when asked why he made the change, Todd said that “there was a lot of confusion for the last year or so” in Eubank and that “things (weren’t working out the way we thought they ought to” with Blanton as police chief.
“It was time to make a change,” said Todd.