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Published: Friday, 6/11/2004

Chief's suspension splits Edon citizens

Edon police Chief Lee Lawrence has been suspended with pay since May 18. Edon police Chief Lee Lawrence has been suspended with pay since May 18.
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EDON, Ohio - As local residents wait for an outcome in the disciplinary case involving their longtime police chief, petitions are circulating through town supporting him.

Petitions for suspended Chief Lee Lawrence have been placed at the Edon Steak House downtown, restaurant owner Tammy Hayward said.

The petitions were left at her business even before the chief's nearly five-hour disciplinary hearing got under way on Wednesday night. The proceedings attracted about 130 people, the majority of whom were claiming to be his supporters.

One of them is local business owner Mary Howard, who testified on the chief's behalf this week. She described a man who's committed to the town, and she pointed to the fact that he started decorating the Williams County village for the holidays.

"He's very into the community," Ms. Howard testified. "As far as his commitment to the community, I don't think anyone could ever question that."

Mayor Dennis Fenstermaker on May 17 suspended the 18-year chief from his job with pay after charging him with four violations, including failure to respond in a timely manner to emergency calls.

The mayor testified that the disciplinary action followed many attempts to improve the chief's overall work performance.

Council on Wednesday began hearing evidence and testimony in the matter and

ultimately will decide whether to fire the chief, lift his suspension, or suspend him temporarily from his job.

About 11:35 p.m. Wednesday, attorneys for the village and for Chief Lawrence decided to stop the courtroom-style proceedings because of the late hour.

The hearing is expected to reconvene at a still-unscheduled date later this month, with an additional three to four hours of testimony. Council's decision will follow.

But council members already have been called to testify in the matter, and most have indicated that they favor the chief's termination.

"Personally I feel Lee has had 18 years to give his side of the story to council," Councilman Paul Curtis said. "He's good with the public. He's not good with council."

Another council member, Doug Schuller, added that Chief Lawrence has a good reputation in town personally, but he said that doesn't extend to the chief's job skills.

"Professionally he has lacked, I feel, on his job performance," Mr. Schuller said.

The chief was suspended following an executive session last month in which council members discussed the alleged infractions. At that meeting, they agreed to offer Chief Lawrence the opportunity to step down from his $33,000-a-year post.

He refused, and the charges were levied against him, said his attorney, Mike Moses.

Mr. Moses has filed a federal lawsuit on his client's behalf. He said Chief Lawrence could consider an appeal as well in Common Pleas Court if the chief is fired.



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