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Editorial: Johnston leaders questioned over letter

web posted December 8, 2006

OPINION – Government belongs to the people, sometimes, elected officials forget that. Moreover, government is supposed to be open and above board with the public while conducting the business of the people. The recent discovery of an October 24 letter from the Attorney General’s Office to SLED stating they were closing the file on former Chief Butch Easler and returning the file to SLED was also sent to Johnston Mayor Willie Campbell. Mayor Campbell, for whatever reason, decided that was something neither Chief Easler nor the public needed to know. It is obvious by the public reaction to the news of the letter he was wrong.

Mayor Campbell, a political newcomer, is getting a quick education in politics. Public servants must follow the letter of the law and the spirit of the law in everything they do. Additionally they must maintain the highest standards in ethics. The day Mayor Campbell received the letter and became aware of its contents he should have first called Mr. Easler with the news, issued a press release to local media, and hand delivered a letter from the town formally notifying Mr. Easler. The Town owed him that much.

Throughout Dean Campbell’s tenure every bit of information that was available was issued that day in a press release in the case. Media did not have to request the information; Dean Campbell would make personal calls to local media contacts. He would routinely say he would rather call than have the media call and asked why they were not alerted.

Granted, the letter does not say there will never be any charges that may stem from the investigation, it said “at this time”. The truth is after an exhaustive fourteen-month investigation and untold costs SLED, too, will close their file in the matter. If they cannot produce enough admissible evidence for a Grand Jury to be presented with the case by now, they likely never will.  

When Willie Campbell took over as mayor he broke the promise of former mayor Dean Campbell placing Chief Easler on paid administrative leave until the case had been resolved. It is true the Chief serves at the pleasure of the mayor, however, given the present situation it very well may snowball into a much larger issue.

Chief Easler, who was set to retire, and even offered to do so, was instead fired by Mayor Willie Campbell earlier this year. Former Sheriff Investigator Chris Aston was later hired to fill the Chief’s position. Some are now calling for Easler to be reinstated with the file being closed on the investigation with no charges. That is not what needs to happen.

What does need to happen is the Town of Johnston, and Mayor Campbell, need to own up to their mistake and reinstate Chief Easler’s good standing with the Johnston Police Department and then immediately allow him to retire and be given the back pay from the time he was removed until the time they do so. Ealser’s career record, otherwise spotless, should be cleared as well allowing him the full benefits of all retired officers.

The ultimate decision to withhold the letter from the public by the Mayor was not only wrong it was disgraceful. Though the vast majority of that blame lies upon the shoulders of Mayor Willie Campbell, a significant amount rests upon the shoulders of the Town Council. They too were included in the existence of the letter and held an executive session to discuss it.

The decision has left a blemish on the integrity of the town and its leaders.


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