Oak Creek Oak Creek Police Chief Tom Ling submitted his resignation Thursday, citing the need to be close to ailing family members in Florida.
The announcement threw last night's Town Board meeting into an endless back and forth of argument and accusation as residents and board members tried to decide how to respond.
Ling did not attend the meeting.
In a phone interview, he confirmed he does have family members that are not well, "but quite frankly," he said, "I don't feel like I've been effective here. The town needs to move on."
Ling was a police chief in Florida for 18 years but came to the Oak Creek position in May 2001. He joins a chain of three Oak Creek police chiefs who have resigned in the past three years.
He will be moving to Lake Wales, Fla., where he plans to be a resident rather than a public figure.
"I am tired," he said.
With their chief leaving in two weeks, the residents of Oak Creek had several decisions to make Thursday night. First, they needed to fill the position. Second, they had to resolve the debate that has been ongoing since the election of Mayor Cargo Rodeman whether to downsize the police department.
"I have run for seven years with the belief that we need fewer police officers," Trustee Mike Kien said. "But the last board meeting (when residents came forward protesting a downsize) changed my mind. We cannot do it with less than three."
Rodeman responded, "I am a firm believer we only need one." And so forth.
The discussion lasted an hour and 20 minutes, at which time Rodeman called for a smoke break.
When they readjourned, it was decided that the town would hold an emergency election with a one-issue ballot, asking the question, "Should the town of Oak Creek reduce its police force?"
The date of the election and wording of the ballot will be announced at the next Town Board meeting.
If the town votes to reduce the police force, Rodeman expressed interest in hiring the chief position from within and not hiring another officer.
"I will adamantly disagree to bringing someone in from the outside," she said.
During the discussion, Sgt. Dave Miller stepped forward to announce his interest in applying for the position of police chief. He has been an officer in Oak Creek for six years, he said.
The board, however, made a choice that surprised everyone in the room, most of all the officers.
Trustee Jay Elliott came forward with an announcement that he had spoken to Ling that morning and Ling had recommended the town appoint an interim chief while advertising the position in the newspaper. He also recommended that the interim chief be newcomer Officer Jason Lunnen.
Lunnen, who has been in Oak Creek since January, passed his resume out to the board and the audience. Minutes later, a motion was passed that Lunnen be appointed as interim chief.
Miller raised objections. The tension between the two officers was palatable. Miller left the room.
"I was not expecting this (nomination)," said Lunnen, a little embarrassed.
By press time, only two of the 11 items on the agenda had been addressed. Beyond the decisions affecting the police department, the board discussed the termination pay amount of former Town Manager Ray Liebensperger.
"I have spent more time on this in my six weeks in office than anything else," Rodeman said. Liebensperger has disputed the amount of his last check because of certain deductions the board decided to make regarding use of a gas card, sick days and other clauses in his contract citing penalties if he left the job in less than a year.
Liebensperger worked for the town of Oak Creek for one year less a day.
Both sides have hired lawyers.
"I would bet my house that my figures are right," Rodeman said. The issue was not resolved. The board members agreed to discuss it at the next meeting when they have more information.