COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department is staying mum on the specifics of spokeswoman Jessie Haden's reassignment.
Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton said in a phone interview Thursday that the move was "indirectly" related to the resignation of Deputy Chief Tom Dresner, whose 26-year career with the Columbia Police Department ended last week after it was revealed that Dresner had an affair with an unidentified female subordinate.
When asked if Haden was the subordinate, Burton took a long pause.
"I'm not going to talk about it," Burton then said. "That's a personal matter. You can draw your own conclusions."
Haden's reassignment to the Patrol Division was announced in a terse 27-word e-mail sent to media Wednesday afternoon by the department's other spokeswoman, Officer Jill Wieneke. There was no reason given for Haden's "lateral" move, and reporters were instructed to direct further media inquiries to Wieneke.
Burton said he had lost confidence in Haden as spokeswoman, but he said she was not being punished or demoted and that the decision to reassign officers in the department was his prerogative.
"The PIO (public information officer) is a very high-profile position with the public, some might say even higher-profile than mine," Burton said, adding that the move was in the department's best interest.
Burton confirmed there was no internal investigation into the affair or into whether the unidentified subordinate received inappropriate benefits or pay.
"There's no evidence that any of that occurred," he said.
As for Haden, Burton said she did not receive any increase or decrease in pay for taking or leaving the spokesperson job.
Haden was selected in April 2009 after Dresner convened a three-member panel consisting of City of Columbia Communications Director Toni Messina, Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Steven Sapp and Missourian City Editor Scott Swafford. The three questioned the candidates for the public information officer position, which included Officer Scott Sergent, now retired Detective Jeff Westbrook, Officer John Warner* and Haden.
Both Sapp and Swafford recalled in interviews this week that they recommended Sergent or Westbrook for the job. Swafford said Haden did not appear to be the first choice of any panel member. Westbrook was a backup spokesperson for the department before his recent retirement.
On Thursday, Burton said he didn't remember everything about the selection process that was used when Haden became a public information officer, but he said that "there were a variety of factors" leading to Haden's selection, which he made based on "the totality of the circumstances." He said he sought the opinions of others but that the final decision was his own.
Burton said the search for a new spokesperson would also be conducted internally, likely after the first of the year.
There are currently no department rules regarding fraternization other than a department policy forbidding spouses to work for each other, Burton said. He said dating within the department is tough to forbid with more than 200 employees, but changes might be coming.
"We probably need something that might require the people involved to tell the chain of command before (a relationship) gets started," he said.
Patrick Sweet contributed to this report.