The latest shake-up among high-level Asheville city government staff has been a long time coming. In a Nov. 7 press release, interim City Manager Cathy Ball announced that Asheville Police Department Chief Tammy Hooper would be resigning effective Wednesday, Jan. 2 — as well as that Hooper had previously attempted to resign in February.
That timing puts Hooper’s initial resignation notice, which city officials did not share publicly at the time, in the same month as the Feb. 28 publication by the Asheville Citizen Times of body camera footage showing former APD officer Chris Hickman beating Asheville resident Johnnie Jermaine Rush. Public anger over the incident led to harsh criticism of the department, including an online petition to fire Hooper with nearly 250 signatures.
However, the exact order of events surrounding the resignation remains unclear. In response to an Xpress information request, city spokesperson Polly McDaniel said Hooper had given oral notice to former City Manager Gary Jackson “prior to the release of the Rush video” but that the city did not have a specific date for that notice.
Citing state statutes about the release of employee information, McDaniel did not provide the date that Hooper’s initial resignation would have become effective or when she formally rescinded her notice. McDaniel also declined to provide contact information to reach Jackson for comment.
Ball’s statement tied Hooper’s decision to remain on the job to the March 20 firing of Jackson by City Council, for which Council members and staff provided no rationale beyond the action being “in the city and his best interests.” Jackson’s removal came after a heated March 7 meeting of the Citizens Police Advisory Committee at the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center, during which Hooper had publicly stated her willingness to resign under community pressure.
“With the former city manager’s dismissal, Chief Hooper recognized the need to provide strong leadership to the police department during a critical time,” Ball wrote. “As such, she committed to continue leading the police department until a new city manager was hired.”
Hooper’s resignation agreement will have the chief providing leadership even after new City Manager Debra Campbell takes office on Monday, Dec. 3. Ball noted that Hooper will meet with Campbell throughout December “to allow for a smooth transition of leadership in the police department.” In consideration for accepting the agreement and providing up to 75 hours of consulting services, Hooper will receive a total of $118,000, nearly 70 percent of her current annual salary.
Also included in the agreement is a general release that prevents Hooper from engaging in a variety of legal claims against Asheville elected officials and employees. One clause states that the agreement settles “any and all disputes” between her and the city, “including but in no way limited to any dispute regarding the payment of wages.”
Another clause notes that the agreement does not represent an admission “of any liability, error, violation or omission” by city agents or employees. Again citing state statutes, McDaniel did not indicate whether the inclusion of a general release is a standard part of the paperwork for employees leaving the city.
Deputy Chief Wade Wood will serve as the interim police chief following Hooper’s departure. Ball noted that the city will soon announce details of a national search for the chief’s permanent successor, to include “input from the community, employees and the city’s leadership team.”
Edited on 11-9-18 at 11:40 a.m. to more accurately reflect the terms of the agreement.