The mayor of Austin on Friday fired the city's police chief as rumors swirled that the Police Department would be dissolved.
Former Chief Jim Kulesa confirmed his ouster on Sunday. He said Mayor Bernadette Chamberlain and two City Council members told him his "services were no longer needed" on Friday afternoon, but they didn't specify why.
"They just said that things haven't been right for the past year," Kulesa said.
Kulesa last month celebrated two years at the helm of the department. Three full-time officers and about a dozen part-timers patrol the Lonoke County town of about 2,800.
Kulesa announced his departure on the department's Facebook page late Friday night. Hundreds shared and reacted to the post.
On Sunday, Capt. David Bufford, a spokesman for the Lonoke County sheriff's office, said Chamberlain and several alderman approached Sheriff John Staley two months ago about taking over patrol responsibilities inside Austin city limits.
"We looked over the budget and found that we could do it cheaper while still offering the same service," Bufford said. However, he added that the city and the sheriff's office never formalized an agreement.
Chamberlain, Austin's long-time mayor, emailed a news release on Sunday, but she did not return multiple phone calls or an email requesting further comment.
"The Chief did not meet the expectations of the job duties required and the mayor and city council believe this to be in the best interest in moving the police department and city forward," the release stated. "The safety and security of the citizens' [sic] is of utmost importance and I assure you the police department is still intact and working to protect the people."
When reached Sunday, City Councilman Matt Sheets declined to say why Kulesa was terminated, but he dispelled rumors that the city planned to eliminate its Police Department.
"There's a lot of rumors, and that's all they are," he said. "The dissolving of the Police Department is not going to happen."
Sheets said the council had not formally discussed replacing its Police Department with sheriff's deputies. However, Staley did ask the city for permission to put a sheriff's office substation in a municipal building, Sheets said.
The alderman said he supported the mayor's decision to fire Kulesa. Attempts to contact other council members on Sunday were unsuccessful.
In a phone interview, Kulesa described a relationship with the mayor that had soured recently, and he was "kind of expecting it."
Chamberlain, Kulesa said, was concerned that the department wasn't generating enough revenue for the city.
"But I wasn't going to turn Austin into a speed trap," he said.
The former chief also said he began questioning certain city practices he thought were improper.
"It seems that ruffled some feathers," Kulesa said.
Two officers -- one full time and one part time -- resigned after Kulesa's termination, but Sheets said the city was still being adequately patrolled.
Kulesa said he planned to apply for unemployment benefits, but he expects a fight from the city.
Metro on 11/21/2016
Print Headline: Got fired, confirms Austin police chief; Wouldn’t set up speed trap, he says; expectations unmet, mayor contends