Meridian Star

March 30, 2014

Mayor needs to lay chief controversy to rest

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — The latest controversy surrounding the Meridian Police Department is yet another distraction from the city's core mission of ensuring residents' safety.

    A Meridian police officer filed a complaint against Police Chief James Lee alleging that Lee cursed and humiliated him during a staff meeting.

    Following the complaint filed by Sgt. J.C. Lewis, Meridian Equal Opportunity Officer Stacey Thompson responded in a letter that "After investigation of your submitted complaint concerning an offensive work environment by Chief of Police, James Lee, I find that there is enough evidence presented to conclude your work environment has been made offensive, intimidating, and threatening by Chief James Lee."

    At a Thursday press conference Meridian Mayor Percy Bland said, "Let me assure you that I take such matters seriously. I have begun the process of reviewing the findings of the Equal Opportunity Officer and consulting with Human Resources and the city attorney regarding this matter. After the review is complete, I will take the necessary steps to discipline the chief if warranted."

    We don't know if the allegation against Lee is true or not, but either way it should be taken seriously.

    If Thompson's finding that Lee created an intimidating and threatening work environment is true, we question Lee's judgment given the litigious nature of today's society and the fact that municipalities are a prime target for lawsuits, warranted or not.

    If the allegation is false, it unfairly casts Lee in a bad light and fosters an unwarranted distrust in his abilities.

    Either way, we hope Bland can quickly put the matter to rest so the police department can focus its efforts on addressing the rampant problem of armed youths terrorizing the city.

    Personnel issues can be messy, employee complaints are not uncommon and most are not newsworthy. What makes this particular instance an exception is the finding by Thompson.

    We aren't privy to the information at Thompson's disposal when she reached her conclusion, but we hope her findings are validated or refuted by Bland — publicly — before the matter is laid to rest.

    The bigger issue here is not one of personnel so much as it is one of trust.

    Residents need to trust that Lee is the right man for the job. It is Bland's responsibility to help restore residents' trust in Lee or find another person to fill the position.