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Police chief 'shell-shocked' after firing

10/3/2013

By TIM UNRUH

Special to The Hays Daily News

BELOIT -- Action was swift Tuesday night when the Beloit City Council emerged from two closed sessions.

Before half of the public attendees could return to the meeting room in the Beloit Municipal Building, the council fired Police Chief Brenon Odle.

But some are unclear whether the majority spoke.

A motion to terminate Odle was made and seconded, and the vote in favor was 4-to-2, with one councilman abstaining, ending the chief's two years as head of the department.

No reasons were offered at the meeting.

"They let him go. The council voted on that. To be truthful, I can't figure out why," Mayor Tom Naasz said. "I know, but I'm not gonna make any statements on it. Everything in executive session is confidential."

Wednesday morning, Councilman Matt Otte offered his opinions.

"I voted to fire Chief Odle because he was not conducting himself in a professional manner, based on multiple complaints from around the community," Otte said.

"He had passion for police work, and I do believe he had done a good job in the time he served. However, some conduct was less than professional."

Among the complaints about the chief was that sometimes he was unavailable, Otte said. "Several people complained about harassment to me," he said.

For someone in that position, Otte said, "There's a standard of behavior I believe a chief needs to exude in a community. There's a level of integrity that goes with being chief of police."

The council was clearly split on the issue.

Otte said Councilman Bob Petterson made a motion to terminate Odle, and Bob Richard seconded. Then Lloyd Littrell and Otte completed the four votes to pass the motion. Councilmen Kent Miller and Frank Delka voted "no," and Rick Brown abstained, Otte said. Councilwoman Pat Struble was not present.

Brown, who works for Mayor Naasz at Crop Production Services, declined to be interviewed Wednesday afternoon.

"I asked him (Brown), and he just really wouldn't say," Naasz said. "I was shocked that he abstained. You're on (the council) to serve and to vote."

Struble said health issues kept her from the meeting.

"If I went to the meeting, I would have gone with the idea that I wouldn't have voted to fire (Odle). He's a good chief of police," Struble said Wednesday.

She said she was "shocked to find out" about the termination.

"I might be just as shocked to find out why," Struble said.

Councilman Miller explained his support of Odle.

"I felt that Brenon has done an excellent job as chief of police," Miller said. "Our crime rate is down and drug arrests are up."

Mayor Naasz was surprised with the vote.

"If you get the records ... the crime rate on theft was down and we've had quite a few drug arrests up there," Naasz said. "I thought he was doing an OK job."

Glenn Rodden, the Beloit city administrator, said, "I don't really think there's a majority."

With Struble present -- and if Brown had voted -- the result could possibly have ended in a 4-4 tie, and Mayor Naasz would have broken the deadlock by voting to keep Odle on the payroll.

But when someone abstains, "It's a nonvote and you are recorded with the majority," Rodden said.

He said the city administrator normally would be invited to executive sessions involving the status of personnel but wasn't this time.

"I would make recommendations to the council to retain or not, any of the department heads. I was excluded from the executive session," Rodden said. "I supported Brenon from the day he got here until yesterday."

"I think (Odle's) performance over the past two years was very good. As far as accomplishing the goals, he's really exceeded my expectations," Rodden said.

Mitchell County Attorney Mark Noah considers Odle a friend and gave him good marks as a police chief. But he wouldn't grade him as high as the late chief, Ryan Stocker, who died in June 2011.

"I tend to judge everybody by Ryan. He was the best police chief I ever worked with. Brenon was no Ryan Stocker, but he didn't do a bad job as chief," Noah said.

Noah joined in the first executive session Tuesday but left before the second.

"I think there were four council members who did not like him at all, and I think it was personal," Noah said. "There were four who were OK. One would go back and forth."

Rodden said it's possible that the termination could be undone by the council.

Odle, 35, said he left the council meeting room with Rodden and Mayor Naasz and handed his badge to Lt. Dave Elam, who later was named interim police chief.

"I went out and talked to the mayor and Glenn, who were both pretty shocked," Odle said. "I'm just shell-shocked."

He said there were never any complaints about his job performance, but admitted council members would "get frustrated about spending, the vehicles and stuff."

As of Wednesday afternoon, Rodden said he hadn't been directed to find a permanent police chief, and he said Elam is not interested in being the police chief.

"The department was really doing some good things and probably would do a lot more," Rodden said. "Now we've taken a step backward."

Asked if he was evaluating his future with the city, Rodden said he signed another four-year contract this past summer.

"It's still a great city to work with," Rodden said. "When things like this happen, everything's unsettled. We have so many great things going on. The sad thing is we're caught up in this drama."