McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Police/Courts

July 2, 2013

McAlester city councilors out of loop on police chief's ouster

McALESTER — Jim Lyles is not the only one surprised at his abrupt dismissal from his job as McAlester police chief Monday.

Members of the McAlester City Council with whom the News-Capital spoke on Tuesday said they had no indication that Lyles lose his job and have been told nothing since about the reason for the ouster.

Five of the six city councilors said they first learned the police chief had been ousted after reading it in the News-Capital or on the newspaper’s on-line edition.

City Manager Pete Stasiak terminated Lyles from his job as McAlester police chief on Monday. Lyles said on Tuesday that Stasiak had told him only that he was being terminated “for the good of the service.”

Stasiak confirmed to the News-Capital on Monday that Lyles was no longer police chief, but answered “no comment” when asked about a reason for Lyles’ ouster.

Ward 5 City Councilor Buddy Garvin is not pleased at how Lyles’ termination transpired.

“I’m very upset,” Garvin said.

“I found out yesterday evening at 5:15 that Chief Lyles had been dismissed,” Garvin said — and that was after he received a phone call from a constituent.

Garvin said he was “shocked” to hear of Lyles’ dismissal by Stasiak after Lyles’ years of service to the McAlester Police Department.

Garvin said he’s had to tell his constituents he knows nothing at all about the matter.

“There was no discussion whatsoever about the dismissal of Chief Lyles,” Garvin said.

He said early Tuesday morning that he’s heard nothing since then from the city manager’s office.

“I have not received a phone call or an email about what has been done to Chief Lyles,” Garvin said.

Ward 3 Councilor Travis Read also said he had no advance knowledge regarding Lyles’ removal from the police chief’s post.

“I first heard about it when I read it on your Website,” Read said when speaking to the News-Capital.

Read noted that McAlester’s City Charter grants Stasiak the authority to hire and fire the police chief and most other city employees.

“The council has no authority over that at all,” Read said.

Still, Read said  “I’m a little disappointed I didn’t hear about it before I read about it in the newspaper.”

As to the reason for Lyles’ termination, Read said “I don’t have anything to tell you, because I don’t know anything.”

Ward 2 Councilor John Titsworth also said he didn’t know Lyles would be removed as chief of police.

“I don’t know anything other than what I saw in the paper,” Titsworth said. “I don’t have any idea what the issues were. I’m not privy to any information on it at all.”

Ward 3 Councilor Robert Karr also said he didn’t know that Lyles would be dismissed.

“I read about it in the newspaper,” Karr said.

He also said he doesn’t know why Lyles was dismissed.

“That’s Pete’s decision,” Karr said. “Maybe he’ll let us know. Right now, I can’t say, because I don’t know.”

Ward Six City Councilor and Vice Mayor Sam Mason said he learned of Lyles’ release Monday afternoon.

“First of all, somebody called me and asked me if I had seen the on-line version of the News-Capital,” Mason said. He said he had no idea what had transpired until he received the phone call and read the on-line account.

“The city manager has the authority to release or appoint the police chief and fire chief and other employees,” Mason noted.

“I’ve been disappointed I had to read it in the newspaper and hear it from a resident before I heard it from the city manager,” Mason said.

The vice-mayor said he doesn’t expect to hear about every matter regarding the city, but it would have been nice, as a courtesy, to have been told a department head was being “released.”

“Later , I called Mayor Harrison and asked if he had heard about it and was surprised to learn he was privy to the information and the rest of us weren’t,” Mason said.

Mason noted that McAlester has a city council-city manager form of government.

Mason said he finally received an email from Stasiak Tuesday stating Lyles had been released “for the good of the service” and an interim police chief would be named soon.

When the News-Capital had earlier asked Mayor Steve Harrison if he had known Lyles would be ousted as police chief, Harrison had replied “I can’t comment on a personnel matter.”

The News-Capital replied that Harrison wasn’t asked for a comment, but rather had been asked when he had learned  Lyles would be ousted. Harrison again said he couldn’t comment.

When asked if he knew why Lyles had been ousted, Harrison said “I actually have not heard why.”

“Pete’s in charge of personnel; it’s his decision,” Harrison said.

“I stay out of personnel. That’s not my area.”

Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith also said he learned about Lyles’ ouster Monday afternoon.

“Somebody called me and told me you had it up on your Website,” Smith said when speaking to the News-Capital Tuesday.

Asked if he knew of any reason for Lyles’ dismissal, Smith said “I haven’t got a clue. I haven’t got any information at all.

“It’s one of those personnel things,” he said. “I don’t know about it.”

Meanwhile, Garvin referred to Lyles’ years of service with the  police department.

“He’s been a good asset to the community and his fellow officers,” Garvin said.

Garvin is aware that under the McAlester City Charter, the city manager has the authority to hire and fire nearly all city employees without conferring with, or seeking approval from, the city council.

Exceptions are the city attorney and the city clerk, who are hired by the city council. The city manager is also hired by the city council.

“I’m really shocked about what happened, but the city manager has authority under the City Charter to do what he chooses to do without consulting the council,” Garvin said.

Still, Garvin said “It concerns me that a key figurehead like Chief Lyles is dismissed — and I wonder what department head will be next.”

Regardless of Stasiak’s reason and the authority granted to him by the  McAlester City Charter to hire and fire the police chief and other city employees without conferring with the council, Garvin said he would liked to have known what was happening.

“The city council is elected by the constituents of the ward,” Garvin said. “When an individual asks us why this has happened, we can’t give them an answer because the city manger has not informed us.

“The people elect us,” Garvin said. “We should be able to tell the people what’s going on.”

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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