Tri-State police chief fired

A northern Kentucky city is looking for a new police chief after the mayor fired their top cop last month, city records show.
Published: Sep. 5, 2023 at 4:06 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 5, 2023 at 6:43 PM EDT
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ELSMERE, Ky. (WXIX) - A Northern Kentucky city is looking for a new police chief after the mayor fired their top cop last month, city records show.

Elsmere Mayor Marty Lenhof terminated Police Chief Joe Maier’s employment in an Aug. 2 letter, city records show.

The chief was “insubordinate” and the mayor lost confidence in his ability to lead the police department, the mayor wrote.

FOX19 NOW obtained the letter from the city via a public record request.

Maier, 51, was hired in June 2020 and sworn in on July 1, 2020. He earned about $106,600 annually, city records show.

The mayor declined all comment for this story beyond two lines he emailed a reporter: “Thank you for reaching out. Chief Maier is no longer employed by the City of Elsmere. With this being a personnel issue, I cannot provide further comment.”

FOX19 NOW also contacted the now-former police chief. His attorney released the following statement:

“Chief Maier was doing his job. He was investigating official misconduct of a public servant and was terminated by a Mayor with improper motives. In the weeks ahead, the public will learn the truth about what occurred. These allegations are not just misleading, but false.”

Before accepting the Elsmere job in June of 2020, Maier worked for 20 years at the Florence Police Department and rose to the rank of lieutenant. He also worked as an internal investigator for the Washington D.C. Civilian Complaint Review Board.

The city of Elsmere began quietly advertising the chief’s position was open late last month without explaining why it was vacant, even when a resident repeatedly asked on the city’s Facebook page.

Elsmere’s retired police chief, Tim Thames, was recently named the interim chief until a new one is hired. Elsmere has about 8,500 residents and 16 sworn officers, city records show.

According to city records, the mayor learned of “some concerning issues with operations and management of the police department. Especially concerning the hostile work environment” and recently took over supervision of the agency.

Maier also was ordered at that time to directly report to the mayor instead of the city manager.

In a previous meeting between the mayor and chief, the chief confirmed he prepared a letter of resignation and offered same,” the mayor wrote.

“It was my hope that from our conversations in which I voiced my concerns that the overall condition of the department would improve through our cooperation. However, the past month you have had minimal communications with me which deepened my concern with you being able to implement my vision for the future of the department.

“Instead of following my directive, you have failed to report the ongoing status of the department. In essence, you have been insubordinate.

A few of the “major items” the mayor says the chief that you have neglected to discuss with me are the following:

  • “A recent double shooting that occurred in the Heartland Point Neighborhood was not reported directly to me nor did you discuss the matter with me following the incident.”
  • Although you knew that I adamantly opposed the wrapping of police vehicles, you proceeded forward without communicating with me and wrapped a new police vehicle without my permission or authority.”
  • In addition, you disregarded my direction regarding the sergeant night chief scheduling. Specifically, the length of term in which they switch shifts.
  • “You had requested meetings with me to discuss personnel issues that were of significant importance. Many weeks went by without communication and then I found out action had been taken without discussing the matter with me.”

Maier’s request for unemployment accuses the mayor of making false accusations about him, according to a copy of it.

“Employer alleged a lack of communication in termination letter. These assertions are inaccurate. I have been instructed to report to the city manager, not directly to the mayor,” the chief wrote in his unemployment application.

In response as Maier’s former employer, the mayor wrote that the chief was fired for cause.

“The claimant on numerous occasions failed to follow the Mayor’s directions, approximately six (6) times before his termination. The Chief was directed to report directly to the Mayor, not the (city manager), in front of witnesses. The Chief failed to communicate with the Mayor in spite of the directives.”

When asked about the “final incident that occurred to cause the employer to discharge the claimant,” the mayor responded:

“One of our Police Officers was not treated appropriately by a supervisor which could have resulted in a lawsuit against the City. Despite assurances that he would consult with the Mayor on any disciplinary procedures against the officer, this claimant brought an investigation.”

The mayor also responded that the chief received verbal coaching “on several occasions” including installing a patrol officers’ room and continuing to try to create a second detective room.

“Instead,” the mayor wrote, “on several other occasions the (city manager) talked to the claimant relating to failure to follow the mayor’s instructions.”

When asked what efforts were made to maintain the chief’s job, the mayor responded: “Due to the sensitive nature of the claimant’s position, the Mayor had lost confidence in his ability to protect the cities (sic) interest due to his inability and refusal to follow the mayor’s directives.”

Maier’s firing and the mayor’s allegations are in stark contrast to comments about Maier when he was hired in 2020 and Maier’s sole job review during the three years he worked in Elsmere.

The mayor is quoted in a news release from the city of Elsmere when Maier was hired saying “I was impressed with how prepared Joe was for the job and how much energy and excitement he showed. His dedication and passion are obvious and I’m confident that he is the perfect fit to be the chief of our police department. Joe also has a very strong vision for the future of the department which focuses on strong community engagement, attention to detail and accountability.”

City Manager Matthew Dowling gave Maier a glowing review that extensively praised him and his accomplishments by citing specific examples page after page.

Dowling rated Maier the best possible performance of “Exceeds Expectations” on all seven evaluation areas for work between March 2021 to March 2022: Communication/Teamwork; Rules and Regulations; Initiative and Learning Capability; Customer Service Delivery; Attendance; Accuracy/Quality of Work and Supervisory Skill.

“Joe works hard and is very dedicated to the City of Elsmere,” the city manager wrote on June 30, 2022, in the section of his review for “Overall Performance Rating.”

“Joe has done a fantastic job and is a team player which is a characteristic that Mayor Lenhof and I place a significant importance on. Great job Chief!”

The city manager also made these specific comments regarding the chief in the review:

  • “Joe has done a fantastic job communicating with myself and Mayor Lenhof. Joe will send out text messages when events take place and call and communicate details of critical events. Joe meets daily with me to discuss department activities.”
  • “Managing risk and liability is a high priority for Joe and is very much appreciated.”
  • “Joe is very aware of the rules and regulations associated with managing a police department, accreditation as well as ensuring good officer safety standards - which is ultimately the top priority.”
  • “Joe is extremely ethical and understands that this characteristic is of paramount importance.”
  • “Joe communicates well with elected officials and does a good job presenting information that is clear and concise.”
  • “Joe has shown a strong ability to supervise his employees and communicate a clear message to them.”
  • “Joe utilizes his command staff to make sure officers have direct supervision and the department is operating as efficiently as possible.”
  • “Joe has shown good control over his department and stops small issues from becoming big issues.”
  • “I have been impressed with Joe’s ability to give his command staff an opportunity to manage a task and take on more responsibility without micromanaging them. This is a benefit for the development of the staff but also to avoid burnout for Joe himself. Keep up the good work!”

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