Eventually, we may hear the city of Havre de Grace's specific allegations against Police Chief William L. Lamphere. But for over a month, there's been nothing but innuendo, leaks by unnamed officials and vague assertions of "misconduct."
Officials in the Harford County city say that half the department's 35 employees have made formal complaints against the chief. An unidentified city official said the allegations against Mr. Lamphere involved "sexual" discrimination in promotions and hiring.
But Mayor Gunther D. Hirsch and city attorney Frederick J. Hatem Jr. have declined to specify any charges. City Council members have distanced themselves from the mayor's investigation, claiming they are not directly involved in, or fully informed about, the move to suspend the chief. A court filing by the city, seeking to overturn a judicial injunction against suspending Mr. Lamphere, claims only that the allegations against him could "result in liability on the part of the city."
If this is so, the mayor and his staff should present substantive evidence to convince the council to join in officially removing the chief from his duties, with or without pay. That has not happened. Citing the city's charter, Circuit Judge Maurice W. Baldwin Jr. issued a continuing injunction barring the city from suspending Mr. Lamphere, with or without pay.
Whether sufficient reason exists to formally suspend or dismiss Mr. Lamphere, who has held the chief's job for six years, an ongoing inquiry by the city administration may determine. But Mr. Lamphere and the public deserve to learn the nature of those charges, instead of a secretive end-run around provisions of the city charter.
Any element of surprise in the inquiry has long vanished. Mayor Hirsch first asked Chief Lamphere to agree to the suspension last month, then imposed it when he refused. The injunction keeps him on the job. His continued tenure may make an investigation more difficult, but the city said in court that Mr. Lamphere has not interfered with the investigation of his department management.
The city is always potentially liable for the actions of its police department, or any of its agencies. If the mayor feels the chief must be relieved to limit further liability, he should say why and take the required legal steps. He should inform the council, which must vote to place charges. This hush-hush approach does not inspire public confidence in Havre de Grace City Hall.