Police chief's deal is no bargain for city

By Times editorial
Published April 8, 2007

If the adage, "Where there's smoke there's fire" is true, Brooksville Police Chief Ed Tincher should be ablaze. But he's not. Instead, Tincher is cool as a cucumber and the ones who got burned are the city's taxpayers.

The city and the controversial police chief reached an agreement last week that allows Tincher to remain on unpaid leave until he retires at the end of this year. That is good news, considering his departure is about 13 years overdue and his credibility as a city department head is stretched out in a similar manner.

The bad news is that the agreement, hammered out between Tincher's lawyer and interim city manager Steve Baumgartner, is remarkably one-sided in the chief's favor. It pays Tincher $28,000, for no apparent reason, to not work until the end of the year, when he was scheduled to retire anyway. It gives him the right to take family medical leave and file worker's compensation claims for a health condition, which is the pretext for his retirement. It even bars the city from investigating "any actions taken by Tincher as police chief." (Emphasis added).

Well, "any" just about covers it.

But that's not all. This lopsided legal document also forces the city to tacitly participate in burying public records that are directly related to the real reasons Tincher is leaving, which is the City Council's disapproval of him and the findings of an investigation into his conduct. Those allegations include that Tincher discriminated against women, mishandled evidence and sometimes used threats and intimidation to accomplish an agenda of self-interest.

The agreement Baumgartner and city attorney David LaCroix approved stipulates that the results of the investigation by consultant James Farley will not be put in Tincher's personnel file; instead, a letter of "voluntary retirement shall be placed" in the folder and the city will be constrained from providing any other "comments or evaluations."

That is a deceitful attempt to conceal relevant information from the public and it is incredible that city officials agreed to condone such transparent duplicity.

As part of the agreement, Baumgartner wrote in a memo to the council that the investigative report submitted by Farley lacked "clear evidence in support of the allegations," and that is why he decided "not to pursue disciplinary action." That may be the case, but more skeptical observers might reach a different conclusion when they add the latest round of accusations to others in Tincher's past.

While Farley's inquiry turned up no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it does conclude Tincher was "incompetent and inefficient," and it corroborates a pattern of fear by employees and others who came into contact with Tincher. Just as they did in 1993, when the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated Tincher for improperly selling weapons that had been confiscated from criminals, those who were interviewed by Farley feared retaliation. Several asked that their interviews with Farley not be audiotaped for that reason.

The FDLE did not press charges back in 1993, but Tincher was suspended from his job for a short while. Meanwhile, Tincher bullied the police captain who blew the whistle on Tincher's gun-selling venture, and several police officers who testified before the city's personnel board said they feared retribution from their boss.

A few years later, a woman who was preparing to testify that Tincher made unkind remarks about another person said the chief came to her house and spent two hours trying to persuade her to change her affidavit. She described the experience as "frightening."

Both examples showed extremely poor judgment and should have resulted in more severe punishment of Tincher, if not his dismissal. Now the city has been presented with even more anecdotal testimony of an atmosphere of fear as it relates to Tincher's reign.

Tincher's 29-year tenure in the city police department -22 as chief - is impressive. He deserves credit for the good he has done, and it is unfortunate he has health issues.

But that doesn't mean the residents of Brooksville owe Tincher anything beyond what they offered, and he earned, as a city employee. And it certainly doesn't warrant a hurry-up-and-hush-up pact designed to whitewash a spotty history.

The ink is dry on the exit document, so it is too late to do more than be hopeful that a new law enforcement leader will restore credibility and professionalism to the police department, and ignite an across-the-board camaraderie.