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Councilman praises city leadership after Burton resignation

A Columbia City Council member praised the interim city manager’s conduct after the announcement Friday that police chief Ken Burton will resign.

Columbia Police Department chief Burton turned in his resignation Friday, a little more than a week after he went on paid leave.

The resignation is effective at 5 p.m. Thursday, the city of Columbia said in a news release. Jill Schlude, who was named acting chief when Burton went on leave Dec. 20, will remain in that role until interim City Manager John Glascock names an interim chief, the release said. Glascock will also be “conducting a process” to fill the interim chief position in the coming weeks, the release said.

Councilman Karl Skala said he’s pleased with Glascock’s work so far.

“It’s probably a settlement that we’ve achieved to the best interest for the entire community,” Skala said.

The city will provide Burton two months severance according to city code, the release said. He will remain on paid leave until his resignation date. Burton has not made himself available for comment and an email sent to his official address bounced back.

Former city 911 director Zim Schwartze, who now works in Springfield, said Burton’s resignation comes as no surprise.

“With all the information and the patterns that many people knew for many years, it does not surprise me at all,” Schwartze said.

Schwartze worked for the city for more than 20 years and sued the city for wrongful termination, winning her case.

She said when Burton stepped into the role of police chief, the police department’s morale changed dramatically.

“There was talk that there was an open-door policy, but a lot of officers were very worried that they couldn’t say anything, they were reprimanded, it was a very different culture,” Schwartze said.

Skala said with Burton as chief, the city council saw Burton fail to implement its policies.

City officials have been quiet about the reasons Burton went on leave Dec. 20, citing laws protecting the privacy of employee personnel records.

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton submitted his resignation to Interim City Manager John Glascock on Friday, Dec. 28. The resignation will be effective at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. More information:

— City of Columbia, MO (@CoMoGov) December 28, 2018

Burton was a frequent target of critics who scrutinized his public leadership of the department and his response to traffic stop data that showed disparities between white and black drivers. Other criticism included a recent police department move to reorganize its Community Outreach Unit. Calls for Burton’s resignation renewed after Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes resigned last month in the aftermath of the outreach unit news.

In 2016, Burton’s lawyer told the Columbia City Council that he would entertain buyout offers after criticism over data showing blacks are pulled over and searched at a disproportionate number in Columbia.

Burton said last month that he was not considering leaving his post.

One of Burton’s critics was the Columbia Police Officers Association, a union that represents CPD’s rank and file officers. In a statement Friday with a headline of “Our Long Ordeal is Over,” CPOA executive director Dale Roberts said city officials repeatedly ignored the union’s concerns about Burton.

“For over six years, the Columbia Police Officers Association and our members have been well aware of the problems with our Chief of Police,” Roberts wrote. “The recent revelations about his habits came as no surprise to us. Sadly, our concerns were consistently ignored. We spoke to the previous City Manager and we spoke to the City Council. Our concerns fell on deaf ears and our documentation was ignored.”

Roberts wrote that it took leadership from Mayor Brian Treece and Glascock to address the problem.

“We suspect it will take time to restore the Columbia Police Department to the position of prominence it once enjoyed,” Roberts wrote. “We look forward to making that change while working with the interim City Manager and the Interim Chief, as well as the individuals who will fill those positions on a permanent basis.”

Roberts in an interview with ABC 17 News said CPOA morale surveys showed some officers were more afraid of running afoul of CPD leaders than getting shot on the job, “which is a sad commentary on the workplace environment.”

In the interview Roberts also said he’s seen changes already since Glascock became interim city manager. Glascock recently paid a visit to the station at about 4 a.m. and stayed for more than two hours talking with officers one-on-one, Roberts said.

Since Burton went on leave more information has surfaced about his activities while in office. ABC 17 News reported on Burton’s use of a Twitter account from which he followed sexually suggestive accounts. The Columbia Missourian reported that Burton’s work schedule was not consistent with what he had pledged to the city manager.

Another critic, the advocacy group Race Matters, Friends, has long called for Burton’s resignation or firing. Group member Tracy Wilson-Kleekamp said Friday that the news was not unexpected.

“He wasn’t going to work, he denies that there’s any problems, what other options did he have?” she said in an interview with ABC 17 News. “He’s on paid leave. It’s a matter of time before he was gone.”

“Amateur hour is over in Columbia,” she said.

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