Veteran chief retires under pressure

Monday, November 12, 2001

REPUBLIC, Mo. -- City leaders unhappy with police chief Sam Hartsell told him he had two choices: retire or be demoted within the department he had led for more than two decades.

So Hartsell retired on Halloween without explanation, leaving many in this town about 15 miles southwest of Springfield thinking their beloved police chief had quit on them.

City leaders said he had left the force for personal reasons. At least two alderman believed Hartsell, 54, had simply retired.

Friday, Hartsell and his attorney Gregg Groves told reporters their side of the ouster, which came only weeks before the Republic Police Department was to open a long-awaited, state-of-the-art police station.

"It just knocked my socks off. ... You could have hit me with a sledgehammer and it wouldn't have hurt any worse," Hartsell told reporters, wiping away tears. "I thought I would be there until Social Security age."

Republic Mayor Keith Miller acknowledged that he had not been forthcoming with the facts about the chief's resignation. But Miller, who has been mayor a year and a half, said legal concerns and a "great respect for Sam" prevented him from being too upfront.

"Did I ask him to resign? No, I did not," Miller said. "I asked him to please look at option No. 1," which was voluntary retirement with $64,000 in severance pay.

Both Miller and City Administrator Dean Thompson said they presented Hartsell with retirement or demotion because they felt the city needed a new police chief. If Hartsell declined to take either, then he would be dismissed from the department, they said.

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