Anamosa police chief ouster is a good start

Anamosa’s police chief was released from duty Monday night with little fanfare. It’s the beginning, but hardly the end, of a lengthy trail of community distrust.

Following years of largely unchecked inappropriate behavior by former chief Bob Simonson, city officials seemed determined to make the process of his termination as low-key as possible. Council members held a closed session Monday afternoon to discuss Simonson’s transgressions and consider a proposed retirement agreement. Back in public view, council formally rejected further negotiations and then quickly voted to adjourn without additional explanation or discussion.

Two hours later, when the body met again in regular session, the agenda was shuffled. The first action item was a motion for summary termination of the police chief with an order for Simonson to surrender all city equipment by noon the next day. The motion was clear and concise, a telltale sign that it had been carefully crafted.

The vote was unanimous.

An Anamosa law enforcement career that began nearly a decade earlier came to a close with no further discussion by the body — not even by members of the body who had been privy to inappropriate email messages and chose not to report them.

Anamosa City Hall, 107 S. Ford St., as photographed on Feb. 24, 2018. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
Anamosa City Hall, 107 S. Ford St., as photographed on Feb. 24, 2018. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

Town residents, however, still are talking.

A group of residents arrived in T-shirts labeled with an #enough slogan — a word that would be repeated during public comments.

“… I’ve had enough … we’ve had enough … this has been enough …”

From a gender discrimination lawsuit settled last month for $750,000 to a host of other racist and sexist infractions, it’s not difficult to understand why residents remain disillusioned. Information now public was part of complaints filed years ago with city officials.

Within council chambers, on the sidewalk outside City Hall and exiting the tavern on the corner, Anamosa residents worried they didn’t yet know the true extent of corruption. Why did it take this long to fire the police chief? What else do city leaders know?

So far, city leaders seem far more intent on brushing these concerns aside than in taking a more direct approach. But sweeping the entire torrid mess under the nearest rug won’t heal the community.

Residents deserve to know if the racist and sexist sentiments expressed by the police chief were merely written off as “jokes” or embraced by other members of local law enforcement and city leaders. Residents need to know how such sentiments may have negatively impacted interactions between local government and residents.

Regional academics and advocacy groups can facilitate community conversations and compile existing data to determine if systemic bias is hindering economic and social well-being.

Since much was known to city leaders and still was kept from the public, residents have work to do at the ballot box as well.

Firing Bob Simsonson was the right thing to do — the only thing to do. But it’s far from the end of what must be done to put this community back together. It’s time to start talking.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Photo credit: Lynda Waddington