Unhappy days for Chief Jolley

July 15, 1993

Aberdeen Police Chief John R. Jolley improperly took $6,300 from the city treasury for a police relief fund, then wrote checks on that fund to pay his personal credit card balances and to buy tickets to a political fund-raiser, according to a state prosecutor's investigation. He also illegally voided dozens of parking tickets and some speeding citations.

That would seem to provide ample grounds for his dismissal, despite state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli's statement that he would not file criminal charges. It could not be proved that Mr. Jolley personally benefited from the ticket-fixing or from misuse of the relief fund, used to buy coffee and help officers in emergencies, the prosecutor said, although $2,400 is still unaccounted for.

The Aberdeen City Council voted against demanding Mr. Jolley's resignation, instead referring his case to City Administrator Peter Dacey for disciplinary action. We urge that Mr. Dacey take prompt, clear measures to underline the serious nature of this misconduct by Aberdeen's law enforcement chief. A meaningful suspension without pay would be the minimum appropriate penalty.

Mayor Ruth Elliott, who initiated the public investigation of wrongdoing earlier this year and temporarily suspended the chief, wanted his ouster. But because of the incessant political strain between the mayor and council, her idea found no support. Complicating matters is the lingering charter question of who actually is in charge of city employees under Aberdeen's year-old mayor-council system of government.

The high political tension could be seen in Council President Ronald Kupferman's curious opinion that the prosecutor's scathing report "exonerated" Chief Jolley, whom Mr. Kupferman called "the most honest man I know." Clearly, the councilmen were not prepared to vindicate Mrs. Elliott, whose earlier suspension of Mr. Jolley they overturned.

Firing the chief now would create a vacuum of authority in the police force, and appointment of a successor would likely be stymied by the personnel-control wrangle that has tied up Aberdeen government for more than a year.

But Mr. Jolley should be punished for his misconduct and relinquish any control over the relief fund. City officials must demand more professional accountability for all funds collected or spent by the police agency. And the tedious deadlock over hiring and firing of Aberdeen department heads should be resolved one way or the other before the next imbroglio further embarrasses the city.

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