Former mayor files public access complaint against city

Columbus’ former mayor has filed a complaint with the state’s public access counselor saying the city failed to provide her with personnel file documents of two Columbus police officers who voluntarily changed their employment status in lieu of possible disciplinary action.

The complaint was filed by Kristen Brown, Columbus, on Feb. 21 and is still under review by the state office, said Public Access Counselor Luke Britt. Britt said on Tuesday he is obtaining a response from the city and cannot comment on the complaint.

It could be several weeks before the complaint is resolved, Britt said.

The complaint stems from an investigation in January into two Columbus police officers accused of working a secondary job as Columbus Regional Hospital security during their regular shifts.

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Hospital officials confirmed that officers Dan Meister and Ron May, who were the subject of an internal CPD investigation, were dismissed from their independent contractor jobs as CRH hospital security on Nov. 30, one day after CPD completed its internal investigation.

The case is being investigated by the Indiana State Police, and detectives there have said the investigation is far from over, said Sgt. Stephen Wheeles, Indiana State Police spokesman. Wheeles said detectives are continuing to conduct interviews and going through tons of documents in the case.

Meister, who was previously a CPD lieutenant, elected to take a patrol officer position and was reassigned to non-law enforcement duties within the department as of Nov. 29, according to Lt. Matt Harris, Columbus Police Department spokesman. May announced he would retire Nov. 29, and due to accumulated vacation and severance, is not working for the department now pending his retirement in May, the department said.

Brown’s complaint is in regard to seeking information about the police department allowing the two officers to make those moves in lieu of disciplinary action, according to her complaint.

Brown alleges that the letters she received from the personnel files of the officers which state the officers accepted the actions “in lieu of disciplinary action as a result of internal investigation,” failed to include the factual basis for a disciplinary action.

The complaint states that the city should have included the “factual basis for a disciplinary action in which final action has been taken and that resulted in the employee being suspended, demoted or discharged.”

“The chief (referring to Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde) cannot avoid the state’s Access to Public Records Act by claiming the discharge and demotion are voluntary — they are not,” Brown alleged in her complaint. “His letters to both officers document there was a quid pro quo. Discharge (retirement) and demotion are the final actions resulting from an internal investigation of ghost employment ‘in lieu of disciplinary action.’ Just because the officers accepted the discharge and demotion at the end of the investigation does not obviate the need for a factual basis under the Access to Public Records Act,” Brown wrote in the complaint.

City attorney Alan Whitted and Rohde said Tuesday they had not seen the complaint.

Whitted and Rohde said they responded to Brown’s request for documents with all the information in the personnel files that pertained to her request. There was no written agreement between the city and the officers detailing the disposition for the two officers, they said.

The city gave Brown copies of short letters from May which detailed his plans to start his retirement and from Meister which said he was giving up his position as lieutenant to become a patrol officer. She also received copies of letters from Rohde granting the officers’ requests in lieu of disciplinary action.

In the response to Brown, Whitted wrote the police department declined to provide a copy of the internal investigation regarding the two officers pursuant to Indiana’s Open Records Law as the records are investigatory and are not subject to disclosure under state law.