About 200 residents packed a City Council meeting Tuesday night hoping to find out why Mayor Elaine Barnes fired Alpine's police chief two weeks ago.
They were disappointed. Residents were so disappointed with the mayor's refusal to discuss the firing that they drafted a petition Tuesday night to recall her. The residents plan to distribute the petition Wednesday.At the start of the council meeting, Barnes said she would hold a "name-clearing hearing" on Nov. 27 to publicly elaborate on the reasons why she fired Chief Brent Leseberg on Oct. 31. Leseberg worked for Alpine for more than 12 years. At the hearing, Barnes said "witnesses will be called and evidence taken, and Mr. Leseberg will be given the opportunity to clear his name if he so desires."
However, the purpose of the hearing will not be to consider reinstating Leseberg, Barnes said.
"Reinstatement is simply not possible given all of the circumstances," she said. "It is to bring an orderly end to rumor and innuendo circulating among some quarters in the city."
Leseberg and his attorney, Howard Lemcke of Salt Lake City, attended Tuesday's meeting. Lemcke questioned Barnes about the purpose of the "name-clearing hearing."
"Whose name do you plan to clear?" he asked. "Leseberg's name is clear."
On behalf of Leseberg, Lemcke refused to agree to participate in the hearing without having a clear understanding of what the hearing would entail, which Barnes was not able to provide.
Reading from a prepared statement, Barnes said she and Councilwoman Barbara Williams spent more than 100 hours over the past six months trying to address problems in the Alpine Police Department. Those problems involve low morale, complaints about work assignments, accountability to the City Council, leadership and direction, compliance with orders and questions about Leseberg's judgment.
"After six months of effort, Barbara and I determined that, under the circumstances, appointment of a new police chief was mandated," Barnes said. Alpine's police chief serves at the will of the mayor and council.
Barnes polled council members for an indication of support for her action against Leseberg. Three members - Dennis Norton, Robert B. Smith and Williams - voiced support for the action.
Councilman Stephen Denler said he couldn't support the action until he had an opportunity to "hear both sides."
Leseberg told the Deseret News that when he was fired, he was told it "was time for a change" and that it was in the best interest of the Police Department that his employment be terminated.
Most residents packing the City Council meeting apparently disagreed. They also drafted a petition Tuesday night requesting that Leseberg be reinstated. Residents accused the mayor and council of taking action against Leseberg without hearing his side in the matter and of not trying to work out problems with Leseberg before resorting to termination.
"Why not get things squared away before you can a man?" a resident asked.
At one point, residents filling the entry of the city building began chanting Leseberg's name, drowning out the discussion in the council chambers.
"The (residents) are here and they are unhappy, Mayor Barnes," one resident said. "You have got a problem."
Residents pressed the council to discuss Leseberg's firing Tuesday, but the mayor and council refused, saying the matter could not be discussed because it had not been listed as a discussion item on the council's agenda.
"We can't give you the answers - it's not on the agenda," Williams said.
"Because of the way it (Leseberg's firing) was done, many people think Brent must have done something bad," resident Alan McFarland said. "My main concern is find out what's really going on. If the action is unjustified, let the mayor and council rectify it."
Dave McMannis, the senior officer in the Alpine Police Department, is serving as acting police chief. Alpine has four police officers in addition to the chief.