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Mapleton mayor defends firing

Police chief axed to let city ‘move in new direction,’ he says

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MAPLETON — A desire by the new Mapleton City Council to "move in a new direction" was the motivating factor behind the firing of former police chief Michael Roberts, according to Mayor Dean Allan.

However, the mayor said city leaders are not yet ready to reveal that new direction to people who live in the city. Allen recently told the city's volunteer firefighters and ambulance crew that Roberts didn't fit in with the yet-to-be-unveiled plan.

The council's refusal to explain the unexpected firing of the popular chief has re-ignited controversy that has plagued the city's police department for several years.

Officials say they were merely exercising their option to terminate an "at-will" employee.

Taped telephone conversations of past and present council members heightened the controversy. The conversations, recorded by a Mapleton resident and given to the Deseret Morning News, contradicted initial claims that documents related to the firing didn't exist.

The Deseret Morning News requested the documents under the Government Records Access and Management Act, which gives public access to most government documents, but officials said there weren't any records. No documents were kept, they said.

Responding to a second GRAMA request that followed the release of the tapes, City Administrator Bob Bradshaw confirmed that at least one document regarding the firing of Roberts exists.

He identified that document as the typed notes that Allan read from when the council voted not to reappoint the chief. Bradshaw refuses to release the notes, arguing that they do not constitute a legal document and are exempt because they were prepared from discussions in a legally closed session of the council.

Since Roberts' firing, two other police officers have quit, including interim chief Scott Gardner, who opted to take a job with the Spanish Fork police department just two weeks after stepping into the interim post. Gardner has agreed to stay in that position until a new chief is appointed, something city officials say could happen as early as Feb. 18.

The firing of Roberts and the other recent resignation — that officer is joining the Pleasant Grove police department — leaves the police force at just six officers in this tony bedroom community of 6,370.

Allan said the current staffing puts the city at a police officer ratio of nearly one per every 1,000 population, similar to Springville. Allan said that is adequate for now.

"We can cover Mapleton 24-7 with the six officers we now have," Allan said.

However, Bradshaw said police must work overtime. The city also has part-time officers at its disposal, he said. Roberts quit using part-time officers when he was hired in December 2000.

Those leaving the department have cited the political controversy, low wages (beginning officers in Mapleton start at just over $2,000 per month) and better opportunities elsewhere as reasons for the exodus.

The police force was making headway under Roberts when the council suddenly changed course, Gardner said. The council seems to change direction after each election, he said.

Allan said the the city will add more police officers as it continues to grow. Mapleton could grow by 30 percent in as little as five years, Bradshaw added.

"We need to step back and look at a different kind of approach" in policing and other areas of city government, Bradshaw said. "The city needs a wider strategy."

E-mail: rodger@desnews.com