The embattled Center police chief has resigned.
During an interview on Thursday to discuss the city’s financial situation, Mayor Dennis McMillen received a call at 10 a.m. from City Attorney Joe Brannon informing him that Police Chief David Ray submitted a letter of resignation from his $34,900-a-year position, effective immediately.
The resignation followed a monthlong campaign by two aldermen, Tom Bramblett and Cristy Browning, to fire Ray, which included an aborted takeover of the June meeting when an alderman and the city attorney were not present. That move to dismiss the chief was overturned a week later because it violated a state law passed in 2013 outlining specific procedures for firing a police chief.
By mid-afternoon on Thursday, Bramblett had not been officially informed of the resignation.
"I knew that he was supposed to resign but I have not heard that yet," Bramblett said. "I have no comment…right now."
The chief’s job status got complicated on July 3, when the Board of Aldermen voted 4-0 to fire Ray’s wife, City Clerk Tracey Ray, after learning that she had not filed a state-mandated financial report since 2015, costing the city $144,000 in fines and growing.
It was later learned that Tracey Ray was shot during a confrontation with Ralls County Sheriff’s Department deputies on July 2, when she allegedly fired a gun at officers during a standoff, slightly wounding Sheriff Gerry Dinwiddie and an unidentified deputy, according to Ralls County Chief Deputy Ronald Haught.
That incident is still under investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
After his wife’s discharge, David Ray was immediately placed on administrative leave by the mayor. McMillen said the city changed the locks on city hall and the vehicle shed and took keys to the city police truck and radios when Ray was placed on leave.
The former chief could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
"I had been talking with him recently, along with the city attorney, Joe Brannon, about resigning from the position. That just seemed to be the best for David and the city of Center," McMillen said.
McMillen said that Ray will receive three months of severance pay, though there will be no benefits.
"He realized it would not be viable for him to come back to work here under the circumstances," McMillen said. "It would have just been too difficult for him to stay."
Ray was the city’s lone police officer. McMillen said that the Ralls County Sheriff’s Department is now providing coverage for Center as city officials consider their next steps.
As he sat in the chief of police office in city hall, McMillen pointed to three boxes of personal items belonging to Ray, saying they would be delivered to him on Friday, when the city would collect his badge.
During a special meeting of the Board of Aldermen on Wednesday night to address banking issues, a scheduled executive session discussed options about the chief’s status, McMillen said, although Ray had not yet officially resigned
"There was quite a bit of discussion about whether that was what we wanted to do, or whether we wanted to fire him, but going through the firing process would have probably taken up to 60 days."
Ray had been the target of harsh social media criticism for the past year. On June 5, Browning and Bramblett, with the city attorney and Alderman Shawn Couch absent, took control of a routine meeting, offered a motion and then voted to fire the Ray on a 2-1 vote. Alderman Steven Reynolds voted no.
During a special meeting on June 12, Brannon told the full board that vote at the June 5 meeting violated a Missouri law enacted in 2013 that clearly outlines procedures for firing police chiefs and said the board’s actions met none of those guidelines. He passed out copies of the state statutes to the board.
Brannon said that state law includes a mandate that that an elected board of aldermen or city council must issue to the police chief a written notice of their intentions no fewer than 10 business days ahead of the scheduled action. Moreover, the law addresses specific items that may be grounds for termination, which include misconduct, insubordination, violation of a written policy or a committing a felony.
Under the 2013 law, a police chief can demand a public hearing – not an executive session meeting – to address the elected body’s charges, presenting evidence and offering witnesses.
Brannon added that the only legal way to fire the chief was for a two-thirds vote of all the elected officials in the city, which in the Center’s case would require three of four votes.