Former chief says city did him wrong

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com

After Nick Mahoney was dismissed in March from the post of Pawhuska police chief, having been on the job a little over a month, he said city government did him wrong. The Journal-Capital talked with several city officials, and they said otherwise.

Specifically, Mahoney said he thought that he had been fired so Lorrie Hennesy, who is now interim chief, could become chief. The move would solve an employment-related problem that Hennesy faced, Mahoney said.

“No,” City Attorney John Heskett replied, when presented with Mahoney’s assertion. Heskett did not say exactly why Mahoney had been fired, but emphatically denied it had anything to do with making Hennesy the chief. Heskett said Mahoney was still a probationary employee and the city didn’t have to give him a reason for letting him go. The firing was a business decision on the part of the city manager, he said.

Interim City Manager Tonya Bright, who did the firing, also denied it was about making Hennesy the chief. Bright admitted she felt pressure about the decision, but explained it was personal, internal pressure rather than pressure that others put on her from the outside.

“I put myself under a lot of pressure because I don’t make a decision like that lightly,” Bright told the Journal-Capital.

For her part, Hennesy said she didn’t buy the notion that the city let Mahoney go in order to promote her.

“I don’t feel like that was the case,” she said. “I don’t know why he would turn on me and come at me like this.”

Mahoney provided documents to the Journal-Capital to help explain why he felt that he had been dismissed in order to make way for a promotion of Hennesy. Those documents included several audio clips that reflected portions of discussions that he had with members of the city council, and with Bright.

Mahoney also gave the newspaper emailed copies of official city correspondence that dealt with an employment-related difficulty that Hennesy was facing.

The audio clips included a variety of interesting remarks by some of the members of the city council, but did not directly prove that any councilor wanted Mahoney fired to make Hennesy the chief. The official correspondence illustrated aspects of an employment issue involving Hennesy.

Hennesy shed light on the recorded remarks, explaining that she took Mahoney to meet with all five members of the Pawhuska City Council the day after the council had decided in March to call for a special, executive-session meeting to discuss the job performance of Dave Neely, who was city manager until March 13.

The council’s regular meeting was March 10. Councilor John Brazee requested an executive session regarding personnel. That session was held Friday, March 13, and Neely resigned immediately after the council returned to open session.

Hennesy recalled that Neely directed her on Wednesday, March 11, to take Mahoney to see the councilors. She explained that Neely initially told her, “You need to go talk to your uncle.” Councilor Brazee is Hennesy’s uncle.

Hennesy recalled that Mahoney asked Neely if he should go and talk to the councilors, and that she then took Mahoney around that day to see all five councilors.

During the conversations with the councilors, Mahoney made audio recordings. During an interview with the Journal-Capital, Mahoney expressed curiosity regarding the reactions of councilors to learning they had been recorded. In fact, each of the councilors regarding which the Journal-Capital received recorded material said that he or she suspected that recording might have been taking place.

As to the reason for his going to see the councilors, Mahoney said: “My goal was to determine if I did need to resign.”

Hennesy and Councilor Rodger Milleson told the Journal-Capital it was their recollection that Mahoney had decided Tuesday night, March 10, to resign, but had rescinded that resignation.

Mahoney said he had not actually resigned the night of March 10 — that he had not submitted any paperwork — but he was concerned about whether he needed to resign. In an interview, he credited Hennesy with talking him out of resigning.

Asked what he believed that he had learned during his conversations with the city councilors, Mahoney said: “I came away thinking that I was OK. Apparently I was wrong.”

“In retrospect, I wish I had resigned,” Mahoney added. He voiced particular gratitude for the way Milleson had treated him during their conversation.

“Roger Milleson was very nice, very professional,” Mahoney said in one interview.

“Rodger Milleson was the one that made me feel the most welcome, the most looked after,” Mahoney added in a follow-up interview.

The Journal-Capital talked with councilors John Brazee, Roger Taylor, Jourdan Foran and Rodger Milleson. The voices of Brazee, Taylor and Foran appeared on audio clips. Milleson’s voice was not on any of the audio clips the newspaper received, but he volunteered to share his recollections and thoughts.

All of the councilors who were interviewed either denied having made any statements to the effect that they believed Mahoney should be fired to make way for Hennesy to become chief, or they denied having any knowledge that Mahoney had been fired to make way for Hennesy.

When the Journal-Capital talked with former City Manager Neely, he said that he agreed with Mahoney’s thesis about why he was fired. Neely said he had tried to resolve things. He also said that Brazee had suggested to him that he make Hennesy the police chief, but that he (Neely) didn’t think she was qualified for the job.

Brazee denied the accusation.

“I don’t ever remember saying that to him because I always said that’s not my business. I think he’s just mad,” Brazee said of Neely.

Brazee recalled that when Mahoney came around to his service station to see him, Mahoney said something about having come “to find out why you don’t like me.” Brazee recalled that he voiced an interest in making sure everyone was treated fairly, but nothing more. Brazee specifically denied he had voiced support for the idea that Mahoney should be fired, so that Hennesy could become chief.

On more than one occasion, Mahoney told the Journal-Capital that he was not interested in regaining the post of Pawhuska chief. He did say, however, that he was considering litigation.