Tahlequah Daily Press

February 19, 2014

Tahlequah city council fires police officer after probe

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Tahlequah city councilors Tuesday night unanimously approved the police chief’s recommendation to fire an officer for alleged policy violations.

After a 30-minute discussion behind closed doors, councilors returned to their special meeting to address the matter.

“It is my recommendation based on an internal investigation and findings of policy violations that Jeff Phillips’ employment with the city of Tahlequah be terminated immediately,” Police Chief Nate King told councilors after an executive session.

Phillips pleaded no contest last month to a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace.

After Tuesday night’s meeting, Phillips said the issue will be taken to arbitration soon.

“The only thing that I can say is that this is not the end of it,” said Phillips. “[We] will pick an arbitrator; it is a lengthy process. It should be a pretty simple case for them. People don’t get fired over a complaint. I know [arbitration] is just a step in the process of getting my job back and probably a lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination.”

Phillips said he doesn’t know yet whether he will file a lawsuit against the city if he gets his job back through arbitration.

“That will be determined after arbitration,” said Phillips. “[Arbitration] is the first step, and that’s what we need to focus on.”

Councilors again heard from Kent and Kara Rountree Tuesday night about a requested property de-annexation.

The Rountrees previously asked the council to allow them to be removed from the city limits. Kent Rountree told the council the property – about 100 acres – was annexed in 2000. At the time, he expected to develop the land, sell it, and “move on.”

Since then, he has decided to retire there, and told the council he wants to be able to use the land to keep and care for livestock, among other activities.

While in the city, the Rountrees are unable to shoot firearms on the property, or carry out other activities like burning brush without a permit.

Kent Rountree argued the land – which is bordered by Bryant Road to the west, Fox Street to the north, and the State Highway 51 bypass on the east – is surrounded on three sides by property that is in the county.

“There’s no harm to the city for the property to be detached,” he argued.

He promised councilors there is “no conspiracy” and no hidden agenda to his request.

He also reminded them that he was told the city would supply the property with utility services when he annexed – but 13 years later, nothing has happened.

Ward 1 Councilor Diane Weston made a motion that the Rountrees’ detachment request be approved, but her motion could not garner a second from other councilors. When the motion failed, Mayor Jason Nichols was unable to get a second motion from other councilors, and the matter died.

WHAT’S NEXT

Tahlequah city councilors will meet Monday, March 3 at 7 p.m. at the council chambers in city hall.

jnewton@tahlequahdailypress.com