Is the honeymoon over for Police Chief Gordon "Buz" Dillon who has only been on the job since July of last year? Reports have surfaced that City Manager Julio Avael has bragged to friends that he is preparing another "Blue Book" of charges which he may use to try to fire Dillon.
In 1997, Avael was able to force then-Police Chief Ray Peterson to retire by compiling a "Blue Book" of what many think were bogus charges. In fact, as part of the final settlement with Peterson, City officials signed a statement admitting that all of the charges were "unfounded."
Avael was hired as City Manager in 1996 amid reports that he had assured then-Mayor Dennis Wardlow and others that, in return for the job, he would "get rid" of Peterson.
Wardlow and his political supporters were reportedly mad at Peterson because they suspected it was he who had called in the FBI to investigate corruption in City government.
This week, through a public records request, Key West The Newspaper obtained several critical memos Avael sent to Dillon in recent months.
In an Oct. 27 memo, Avael told Dillon, "I am now seriously concerned that your department does not have the ability to fill vacancies expeditiously . . . Leaving a vacant position three-plus months when we have a qualified candidate is poor management and an apparent lack of organization in the hiring process of your department."
Avael was unhappy with Dillon for failing to hire Key Wester James Bogoeff for a position in the police communications center. Avael had recommended the hiring of Bogoeff last summer.
In a previous memo dated Aug. 27, Avael wrote:
"At my meeting with you on July 15, you indicated that he (Bogoeff) would be hired by the department (in the communications position) as soon as he passed the typing test. Subsequently, I received notice from your office that he had passed the test and qualified for the communications position.
"I learned today that you had filled the position with another candidate . . . Although I do not believe it is the department's intent to by-pass James, it is the appearance that we are not following through with our commitment to him."
Avael did not elaborate on what that commitment was although he pointed out that Bogoeff had been a Law Enforcement Explorer Cadet with the police department during high school and that he aspired to joining the Key West Police Dept.
Two months later, when Avael learned that Bogoeff had not yet been hired, Avael fired off the Oct. 27 memo, threatening to transfer the police hiring responsibilities away from Dillon and into the City's Human Resources Dept.
"I am not happy with the time it takes your department to fill communications positions and the manner James has been treated."
Bogoeff was subsequently hired on Nov. 29.
Bogoeff was in the news earlier this year when he and David Lariz Jr., both Law Enforcement Explorer Cadets (the Department's high school youth program) were charged with representing themselves as police officers in an effort to pick up a 19-year-old girl. An investigation by both Internal Affairs and the State Attorney's Office ended in August with a finding of "insufficient evidence."
Both Bogoeff and Lariz are the sons of former Key West police officers.
In his Oct. 27 memo, Avael also demanded that Dillon start giving him weekly reports listing vacant positions in the police department. Deadline: Noon every Monday.
Could "poor management" and "lack of organization" be Charges 1 and 2 in a new "Blue Book"? Don't think that couldn't happen. Back in 1997, when former Police Lt. Tom Chapp wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that firing guns into the air in Bahama Village on New Years Eve was OK, Avael reprimanded Chief Peterson not Chapp arguing that this "proved" that Peterson couldn't control his department. And "lack of control" became Charge No. 1 in the "get Peterson" Blue Book.
Are we jumping to conclusions here prematurely? Maybe. But one day after Avael wrote his scathing memo to Dillon on Oct. 27, he wrote another memo to the Chief scolding him because the clocks in the police communications center were reportedly wrong. This could be a potentially serious problem because it could result in the times of incoming emergency calls being logged incorrectly.
Avael said he had also been informed that the police communications unit was dispatching police cars to the scenes of reported fires before the fire department, and that cops were closing streets without informing the fire department.
Avael's source? Deputy Fire Chief Billy Wardlow, the brother of the former mayor.
Although Fire Chief Budda Fahey was copied on the memo, we have to wonder if there is a chain-of-command in the Fire Dept. If Deputy Chief Wardlow was aware that there might be a problem with the clocks in the police communications unit, wouldn't the logical protocol be to inform the Fire Chief, who would then call the Police Chief?
Why would Deputy Chief Wardlow report directly to the City Manager?
Avael not only told the Chief to "address this matter" but also required him to "advise me of your action."
Could "allowing the clocks to be wrong in the police communications center" be Charge No. 3 in a new Blue Book? That's no sillier than some of the charges in the Peterson Blue Book.
The next day, Oct. 29, Avael sent Dillon still another memo informing the Chief that he (Dillon) would not be making the decision as to who would be promoted to captain. An "interviewing panel" of "professional experts" would interview and rate candidates, Avael said.
Although Avael continues to be publicly supportive of Dillon, the behind-the-scenes action may tell another story. If Avael wants to get rid of Dillon, why wouldn't he use the Blue Book strategy? After all, it worked before. Blow small incidents out of proportion. And, if necessary, just make other crap up. Force the guy to quit. Give him some money to go away even if it might require an after-the-fact admission that all the charges are "unfounded." So what? The end apparently justifies the means.
But it turned out to be far more difficult to oust Peterson than originally planned because the public came to his support. Hundreds of residents turned out for rallies in support of Peterson, organized by activist Tom Oosterhoudt who was elected to the City Commission this October. And don't think that doesn't make Avael nervous.
If Avael is planning to use a similar "Blue Book" approach to "get" Dillon, it shouldn't be anywhere near as difficult to pull off as the Peterson assassination. Dillon is not as well known as Peterson was.
If Avael wants to do it, and he has the support of at least four City Commissioners to keep the Commission from "interfering," he could probably pull it off. During the Peterson bloodletting, Avael had the support of then-Mayor Wardlow, and Commissioners Harry Bethel, Percy Curry and Merili McCoy.
And what about the police union, the Police Benevolent Association? If Avael is, indeed, starting another Blue Book, where will they stand? During the Peterson fiasco, many turned, Judas-like, against their boss, the Chief of Police. Will they do it again?
Let's watch together and see what happens.