Somerset’s police chief calls it a “professional impasse.”
The city’s mayor says it was a “surprise.”
However one would describe yesterday’s developments, one thing is certain: The City of Somerset is without a police chief — again.
Yesterday’s resignation of Jeff Peek, a Somerset native who joined the city’s police force just two months ago after retiring as Danville’s chief, means Somerset has seen five acting police chiefs over the course of about six months.
It began with former Chief David Biggerstaff’s resignation under the claim that he would not be able to work with the incoming city administration. Now, Peek says he is also leaving because he and Mayor Eddie Girdler, who took office in January, can’t see eye to eye.
“We had discussed some matters that I felt were very important to the future of the department — things that I felt I needed to have in order for the department to be successful,” Peek said yesterday evening.
“After our discussion, it became clear to me that (Mayor Girdler) was not going to yield in any way, and it was that important to me that I was not going to yield on my part.”
Girdler said he received Peek’s letter of resignation as he was on his way out of his office yesterday afternoon. His resignation is effective July 9.
“In his resignation letter, he refers to (problems with) a new policies and procedures manual and an organizational restructuring,” Girdler said.
Girdler said that last Thursday he received two large volumes of proposed changes to the police department’s policies and procedures manual, as well as an organizational chart which proposed, among other things, the hiring of an additional assistant chief.
Peek told the Common-wealth Journal yesterday the requested changes involved “policies that were critical to our operations, and which gave the chief the authority and the ability to run the department.”
Girdler briefly looked at the organizational chart, but had not had time to review the manual changes, he said.
When Peek asked Girdler yesterday whether he had had time to look over the revisions, “I indicated that I had not had time to review the massive volume of information,” Girdler said.
Peek, however, told Girdler that he did not want to wait on the changes.
Girdler said the city council had just approved the 2007-2008 fiscal year budget, which includes the hiring of four additional police officers and the purchase of eight new police cruisers — putting “a substantial amount of money and resources into the police department” — and it was his belief that any further changes would need to be considered in the future.
Girdler said he recommended that Peek meet with the city council concerning the issues throughout the course of the new fiscal year.
“(Peek) said he felt like these things needed to be done immediately,” Girdler said.
“He did not want to wait until next year. ... He told me that if the changes were not implemented immediately, it would be in his best interest not to continue as police chief. ... I did not ask for his resignation. I wish he had stayed.”
Peek said he felt compelled to leave the department in order to keep a promise he made when he arrived.
“I have always said that as long as I ran the department, I would be there, but that if I couldn’t run the department ... I wouldn’t be there,” he said.
He said he didn’t get the impression that Girdler merely wanted him to wait on his plans.
“I didn’t feel like, based on his conversation, (the changes) were an option any time in the near future,” Peek said.
“... Not in this fiscal year, and maybe beyond. ... He indicated that he did not want me to do that right now, and he did not authorize me to take it in front of the city council, even after I offered to take it myself, and that, if it failed, it would be on me.”
Peek said Girdler indicated to him that his ideas would “never be presented” to the city council.
“That indicates to me that it wasn’t so much about timing,” Peek said.
Girdler said he had been under the impression that the police department was on an upswing since Peek’s arrival.
“Over the last two months, everything has seemed to be calmed down, and I’ve been very satisfied with the progress that has been made,” Girdler said.
“We totally agreed on the issue of community policing. ... I’ve never had any words with Mr. Peek, or any problems with him. ... I wish him well.”
Peek says he plans to “take some time off and enjoy retirement for a while.”
“It will probably be good for me to have some time to decompress,” he said.
Peek retired as chief of the Danville Police Department to take over as Somerset’s police chief. Peek replaced veteran law enforcement officer Anthony McCollum, who had been serving as acting chief. McCollum replaced Carrie Wiese, the city’s in-house attorney, whom Mayor Girdler had appointed as acting chief when he entered office in January. Wiese replaced veteran officer Allan Coomer, who had been appointed acting chief by former Mayor JP Wiles upon David Biggerstaff’s resignation last December.
“I have enjoyed being a part of the Somerset Police Department,” Peek said yesterday.
“I’m not sure about my long-term plans, but (my family and I) love Somerset. It’s still home, and we still want to see good things happen for Somerset. I hope a police chief is found who fits (Girdler’s) desires and who will also be good for the officers.”
McCollum, who has been the assistant chief under Peek, will again be in charge of the police department until a new chief is named, Girdler said.
In the meantime, Girdler is hoping the spark of morale which may have flickered in the department for a short time won’t be lost.
“We have some excellent officers who have withstood many, many changes,” he said.
“We have to make sure we continue to protect the officers who protect us.”
Somerset’s police chief calls it a “professional impasse.”