The announcement made by Chief Burton regarding the reassignment of Jessie Haden from Public Information Officer to patrol Officer due to her “involvement” in the Tom Dresner affair has finally awakened Columbia’s media to the fact (pointed out in this KCF blog several days ago) that there may have been some malfeasance in the department when Jessie Haden was chosen for the coveted position of P.I.O.. So far it looks like the Missourian has beaten the Tribune to the punch on this one, but you can bet this story is far from over. There are surely several unhappy officers on the force who aren’t going to let this one rest. Well, at least we know there’s one.
A few things jumped out at me in the media coverage of the story. The Tribune reported that…
…Haden was to be “laterally” reassigned to patrol, effective Monday.
and The Missourian reported that, according to the department, Haden…
…was not being punished or demoted and that the decision to reassign officers in the department was his prerogative.
Burton then indicated that…
…Haden was not happy with her new assignment.
I really get the feeling that this is just more smoke and mirrors from the department. Jessie Haden is obviously getting her wrist slapped for her “involvement” in the Tom Dresner affair. That much is clear to everyone, but Chief Burton won’t come out and say it.
The reason for Chief Burton’s tap dancing on this one might have a little something to do with the circumstances surrounding Jessie Haden’s ascent to Public Information Officer back in 2009. The Missourian reported that Tom Dresner formed three-member panel to help choose the new P.I.O.. The panel consisted of City of Columbia Communications Director Toni Messina, Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Steven Sapp and Missourian City Editor Scott Swafford. But wait…
When asked about choosing Haden for the job despite the obvious recommendation of the panel, Burton pulled a classic Ronald Reagan. The Missourian reported:
…Burton said he didn’t remember everything about the selection process that was used when Haden became a public information officer, but he said that “there were a variety of factors” leading to Haden’s selection, which he made based on “the totality of the circumstances.” He said he sought the opinions of others but that the final decision was his own.
So let me break this down and ask a few questions.
Old Dirty Dresner picks a panel of distinguished Columbians to help choose a P.I.O.. His honey (hey, the chief said we could all draw our own conclusions), Haden is in the running for the position. No one on the panel likes Haden, but she mysteriously gets the job anyway.
Now, it’s not unlike Chief Burton to do whatever he wants despite public opinion and input from city leaders. This tendency has shown its face more than once in his responses to the C.P.R.B., and comes as no surprise, but now he doesn’t remember why he chose Haden for the job — a decision he made only a year and a half ago.
Does Chief Burton’s foggy memory seem a little too convenient at this juncture?
Was allowing Tom Dresner to appoint a panel to choose the new P.I.O. simply a subterfuge aimed at throwing folks off the sleazy sex scandal scent?
Was Haden chosen for the position before the panel was even convened?
When Burton “sought the opinions of others” was Tom Dresner’s opinion taken into account?
Why is there no internal investigation regarding the circumstances surrounding this affair and its fallout?
Is it time for an external independent investigation?
I won’t dare answer these questions, but they need to be asked.