Sun, Feb

A rare interview peppered with low blows

COLUMBIA, Mo 9/4/13 (Beat Byte) -- A Columbia police officers union is guilty of "an incredible amount of insubordination" few other organizations would tolerate, city manager Mike Matthes said in a rare, hour-long interview with KBIA last week.  

Matthes blamed the Columbia Police Officers Association (CPOA) for forcing police chief Ken Burton "to deal with things no other law enforcement chief would ever have to deal with.  CPOA has resented the fact that chief Burton is from outside the department."

Burton was hired from a Texas community in 2009.  

Peppered with anger, frustration, and personal insults, Matthes' comments were another indication of a divide between labor and management at Columbia City Hall.   His remarks followed questions from interviewer Ryan Famuliner regarding Burton's job performance, about which Matthes expressed "100% confidence."

Last year, CPOA -- aka the Columbia Fraternal Order of Police -- demanded Matthes fire Burton after a consultant's report revealed department morale so low it was "approaching toxicity".    In the wake of Mayor Bob McDavid's unpopular call to raise property taxes for more police officers last month, CPOA pressured the city manager to find existing money in the budget instead. 

"Our system allows for insubordination, unfortunately," Matthes told Famuliner, who asked about the damning consultant report.   "Most people wouldn't let their own businesses to be run the way we must.   Think about other systems like Boone County government and the Sheriff, where 100% of the employees are employed 'at will.'  You'd better not  pull that kind of stuff over there." 

"That kind of stuff," Matthes explained, meant "smear campaigns and other old school union tactics that have never worked in our history, in America."  

Reporters, he urged, must get past "petty rumors" and ask, "What is it about Chief Burton that is so bad?   If you dig deep enough, what you end up with is very petty things."

Among the "petty" complainers, Matthes referenced retired police detective Bryan Liebhart.  With other CPOA panelists, Liebhart addressed an August 13 public forum critical of police management and public safety budgeting.

"He is still extremely mad we deleted take home vehicles," Matthes explained.  "He had to buy a car for the first time in his life.  That would be embarassing if you admitted that publicly."

Matthes' remarks mirrored an August 25 editorial Burton wrote condemning "a disgruntled, retired line-level officer who in 20-plus years never had to make a command decision." 

Looking toward the future, Matthes noted "a lot of positive growth in CPOA," though the group is "very fractured right now.  After their press conferences, I get more calls from staff saying they're embarassed or angry with CPOA for not asking if they should hold a press conference, or if the membership agrees with their public stance."