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UPDATE: Ken Thomason will fight his termination

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Residents showing support for fired police chief

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

Ken Thomason isn’t ready to give up his job without a fight. He just doesn’t know at this point what approach he will take in that fight.

Thomason said on Friday, two days after being terminated as St. Elmo’s chief of police, that he has been talking with two attorneys since Mayor Larry Tish handed and read to him a letter of termination.

Tish relieved Thomason, who is in his 16th year of police chief in St. Elmo, of his duties two days after Thomason challenged the mayor about his decision to voluntarily testify for a St. Elmo resident who had been issued an ordinance citation for high weeds.

According to a report on Monday’s meeting in the St. Elmo Devonian, after Thomason asked the mayor about testifying on behalf of Tracy May, Tish pointed at the police chief and said he would talk to him after the meeting.

Thomason said he issued the citation to May after getting complaints about the condition of his property.

“I had people complain to me about it, and I issued him a warning just like everybody else,” he said. “Even the judge pointed out that he had 21 days to take care of the problem.”

The ticket was dismissed, with the judge ruling that the ordinance is unconstitutional in that it is too vague. The ordinance does not state a height of grass or weeds that warrants a citation, instead leaving the decision for a ticket up to the discretion of the police officers.

“I’m not upset with the judge over his decision,” Thomason said. “His ruling was based on the legality of the ordinance, which was on the books before I came here.”

Thomason said he didn’t have a problem with Tish testifying against the city; it was just that he did so voluntarily.

“If he had been subpoenaed, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it,” Thomason said. “There’s a proper way to testify and an improper way, and the mayor chose the latter.

On Friday afternoon, Thomason was waiting to hear from his attorneys before moving forward on his challenge of Tish’s actions.

“I’m just weighing my options,” said Thomason, adding that Tish has yet to give him a reason for the termination. “The big thing, of course, is to get back to work.”

In his letter, Tish told Thomason that he would explain his reasons for the termination to the city council at a special council meeting to be held at 7 p.m. next Thursday.

The location of that meeting has yet to be determined, due to the number of residents who are expected to attend.

In recent months, some council meetings have been moved from city hall to the Phillips Building, because there wasn’t enough room to house all residents on hand.

Thomason said there has been talk of the meeting being held in the gym at St. Elmo High School.

That’s because a number of residents have already voiced their opposition to Tish’s action.

“I’ve been told that 300 signs have been made and that more are being made,” Thomason said.

Those signs, asking residents to support Thomason and to have him reinstated, are posted throughout the community. Michael L. LaMar was holding one of those signs at the intersection of U.S. Route 40 and Main Street throughout the day, as well as handing out more of the signs to residents who are stopping at the intersection. (See separate story.)

The outpouring of support has left Thomason pretty much speechless.

“It brings tears to my eyes,” he said.

Thomason and LaMar said there are plans in the works for a parade in support of Thomason on Monday night at 6 p.m. Thomason said he’s been told that the parade will start at the high school.

In his letter, Tish ordered Thomason to turn over to him “all city property, books and effects in your possession belonging to the municipality.”

As of Friday afternoon, Thomason had not done that.

“I still have the squad car, and my uniforms are still in my closet,” he said, adding that documentation he will use in his fight “is in my attorney’s hands.”

Thomason said he has some vacation time on the books. “I consider myself on vacation right now.”

The Leader-Union left a phone message for Tish on his cell phone, and he had not responded by the end of the day on Friday.