JONESBORO, Ark. – In a recording of the termination meeting of Rachel Anderson, the chief of police tells Anderson the decision to fire her was out of his hands and came from the city administration. However, the chief tells NEA Report, he felt the termination was out of his hands because he had no alternative after Anderson implied both he and mayor were lying to the public.
NEA Report obtained a recording of the termination meeting over the weekend, initially from private sources and then in a records request from the city to ensure authenticity of the original file. The audio is of the meeting on November 14 between JPD Chief Rick Elliott, Assistant Chief Lynn Waterworth, and then-employee Anderson. The recording, which was not made by Anderson, begins approximately 90 seconds before she is heard entering the room.
The conversation begins with the police chief accusing Anderson of misuse of a take-home vehicle. In hindsight, we know Anderson was exonerated after an internal investigation into that matter. But she explains herself to Elliott and Waterworth for several minutes.
From there, the conversation shifts to the matter of Anderson speaking at the November 7 public meeting against the mayor’s bond proposal. Chief of Police Rick Elliott expresses concern about Anderson’s behavior at the meeting, describing Anderson’s comments and actions as disrespectful, insubordinate, and offensive in front of the mayor and council. He cautions Anderson that such behavior could undermine the progress made on projects like the crime center/dispatch, which is phase 1 of a project set to eventually house the entire police department.
“It’s put yourself in a bad position,” Elliott tells her. “It’s the bad position that…you’re terminated over it.”
There’s silence for a few seconds. Then Elliott continues the conversation, explaining more about the potential plans for a new center. He returns to the topic of Anderson’s employment and expresses that he doesn’t want to terminate her.
“And I hate it,” JPD Chief of Police Rick Elliott tells Anderson in the meeting. “You’ve done wonders. But it put me in a position and I have to answer to other people. So, therefore, effective immediately, again…you’re terminated.”
As the meeting draws closer to the end, the conversation becomes emotional and it sounds like Chief Elliott gets choked up at one point. Anderson asks what policy she specifically violated. She is told she violated policy in three different handbooks.
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As part of our records request, we asked for and were provided with the city handbooks/policies allegedly violated.
Anderson tries to tell the chief she thought a public hearing with public comments was the appropriate time to make the remarks she gave at a November 7 meeting. She specifically says she thought it was her last resort to make those in charge aware of her perspective.
“It’s not a last resort, and to be honest, it’s a bad resort,” Elliott replies to Anderson. “Because…not only did you infuriate the mayor but several of the council members deemed that it was very inappropriate. Its not the forum or place to say what you want or need or what you think you need. We have a chain of command and we have a policy about speaking ill of what is in the process…what’s in the works in the city.”
Anderson seems to be in shock at the outcome during the termination meeting. She states the disciplinary action taken against her seems harsh, especially since it was her first offense.
“I understand but again, I have people I have to answer to,” Elliott says.
Anderson replies asking what that means.
“That means the city administration feels under the circumstance, yeah, its a fire-able offense,” Elliott responds.
Elliott says she can appeal the decision but that it is out of his hands. “And I hate it,” he says, before telling Anderson she has done a wonderful job for him and the only thing he can say is she will do well wherever she goes. It is at this point the chief of police sounds as though he is getting emotional.
The conversation continues on for several more minutes. Most of the subjects are repeated from earlier without much new substance. Yet, there is a point where the police chief explains to Anderson that they work for the mayor and as long as he’s the mayor, even if what he wants isn’t the best idea, “that’s what we’re going to do.”
Police Chief Explains More
The City Communication Director Bill Campbell says that the chief of police was explaining that this is policy that is out of his hands. He says Elliott told him none of those involved liked having to make the termination decision because Anderson has done good work, but he has had to fire others for less egregious violations, Campbell said. He also reiterated that a week had passed between the incident and the action, so everyone could make note of how to handle it. We asked specifically if the mayor was “infuriated,” to which Campbell said he would describe it more as “stunned.”
Chief Elliott spoke to a reporter on Sunday, Nov. 19 about the matter. We asked him verbatim if he was forced or told by the mayor to fire Anderson. He said he was not. He said the mayor agreed with the decision but that Elliott felt like his trust was betrayed when Anderson told the council that the Real-Time Crime Center mostly works on investigations. Elliott says the opposite is true. He added that Anderson not only made the statement but had scripted it and planned to make statements that, in essence, accused both he and the mayor of lying.
“Those statements are intolerable,” Elliott said. “It has eroded my trust, my faith, and my confidence in her as an employee to move forward with her. Its nothing personal with her. I like her as an individual, but the employee aspect of it, once you have eroded my trust, my confidence, I can not leave you in that position.”
According to Chief Elliott, he said to himself, “I’m done with this,” during Anderson’s speech on November 7 before he spoke to anyone. He acknowledged speaking to the mayor about the topic afterward.
The police chief also acknowledged that it hurt having to terminate someone who had performed her duties so well. However, he said he felt like he had been betrayed and couldn’t trust her any longer, adding that his door was always opened and she had never felt like she couldn’t walk into his office before.
“It hurt me,” Elliott said, paraphrasing that he thought to himself, “‘Girl, we’ve done all this together. The betrayal I felt! I can’t trust you anymore to do what I need to do!’
“The door has always been open and she has never felt she couldn’t walk into my office and meet with me.”
But in the end, the chief said he will not be disrespected in a public forum over something that really didn’t amount to a hill of beans.
“It bothered me,” Elliott said. “It hurt me. But it hurt me more when I felt like I was betrayed.”
Anderson declined to be interviewed for this story