Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas condemned police leadership in a closed meeting with council colleagues and in emails with residents, according to records the Missourian obtained through a Sunshine request.

“I am now convinced that we will not make any further progress towards community-oriented policing as long as this City Manager and this Police Chief are in office,” Thomas wrote in a document prepared for the closed-door meeting on Nov. 19 in which the council agreed to ask for Matthes’ resignation.

“The Chief’s vision for the Police Department, as he described it at last week’s meeting, is particularly bleak. Beyond that, I believe the failure of leadership at CPD and the inability of the City Manager to intervene is creating a threat to public safety.”

Thomas was referring to a Nov. 14 meeting of the Citizens Police Review Board, at which Police Chief Ken Burton said community policing didn’t offer enough action to make officers want to be part of it.

Matthes resigned the day after the council’s closed-door vote.

Although Thomas advocated directly for Matthes’ dismissal, other council members spoke highly of Matthes’ work.

“Our city is the best it has ever been because of your vision,” First Ward Councilman Clyde Ruffin said in a parting email to the former city manager. “I am confident that you will rise and continue to do good work wherever this journey leads.”

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Betsy Peters praised Matthes’ performance in an email response to a KMIZ reporter’s request for comment.

“He has taken dead aim on our high unemployment rate especially among our African American citizens and has identified ways to address that disparity,” she wrote. “Finally, with our community partners Mike has helped us all move forward to improve the lives of the citizens of Columbia.”

Thomas acknowledged Matthes’ work for the city, including his efforts to emphasize social equity and public safety, and Matthes’ “positive impact on City government operations and in the city at large.” Still, he maintained it was time for change.

He also made clear that he hoped that Matthes’ resignation would also “change the dynamic for Chief Burton.”

“Mr. Matthes is not managing the Police Department in the way we have asked,” Thomas wrote, “and I do not accept the argument that he has no influence over Chief Burton, because he cannot fire him.”

Burton, Mayor Brian Treece and Interim City Manager John Glascock did not return phone calls seeking comment on Friday.

Conflicts over policing

A preliminary community policing report requested by the City Council came out in August but was panned for not including vehicle stop data or a discussion of trust in the city’s communities. It said the city would need significant new resources to make a full transition to community policing..

In November, Deputy Chief Jill Schlude sent an internal email detailing cuts to the Police Department’s Community Outreach Unit and alterations to the city’s community policing strategy. The number of officers dedicated to community policing would drop from 14 to eight, those officers would cover the whole city, not specific beats, and the name would change to “Community Response Unit.”

Schlude wrote that cuts were made because of staffing concerns and that the new approach could better integrate community policing in officers’ everyday practices throughout the city.

Then came what Thomas referred to in his remarks as “back-pedaling” that was “either dishonest or evidence of utter chaos.”

Matthes later defended the changes but rejected the name change for the unit. Backlash intensified after Burton said officers wanted “action” and that officers on the community policing beat “tend to get bored.”

Race Matters, Friends, members responded heatedly at the public City Council meeting on Nov. 19. Treece also took Matthes and Burton to task, seeking to understand how and when decisions around the city’s community policing strategy had been made. He asked the two to make no further changes to the outreach unit until the final report on community policing was presented to the council.

Community feedback

In emails to council members, residents weighed in on Matthes’ resignation and on community-oriented policing.

One wrote that Matthes’ departure was long needed and that Burton’s should follow. Another argued that the planned changes to the unit would water down community policing and that Burton, by allowing officer disinterest to drive a decision to shrink the unit, was signaling a lack of interest in changing the department’s culture.

Some were unhappy with the council’s request for Matthes’ resignation.

Darin Preis, executive director of Central Missouri Community Action and a former Columbia School Board president, and Columbia NAACP President Mary Ratliff, both argued in emails that Matthes had done good for social equity in the city.

“From the outside-looking in, it seems like the problem all along has been the police chief,” Preis wrote. “Is the police chief so immune from control? It seems strange that he goes unsupervised.”

“I agree with you that the Police Chief is a real problem,” Thomas wrote back.

The Missourian was unable to contact Preis for comment on Saturday.

Ratliff wrote that the council was bowing to activists without considering long-term consequences.

“I am appalled at the efforts of many to terminate the only City manager that I have known in my time as a Columbia Resident who earnestly tried to make a difference for Black Columbia,” Ratliff wrote. “For this effort he paid the ultimate price (Termination).”

In an interview Saturday, though, Ratliff said the proposed changes to the Police Department’s Community Outreach Unit had taken her organization by surprise.

“We were kind of blindsided with the announcement of the change,” she said. “We did not want to see a change in what we had worked for.”

Supervising editors are Scott Swafford and Sky Chadde.

  • Second-year graduate student, reporting from Washington, D.C.

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