PRICHARD, Ala. (WMPI) - Jimmie Gardner is no longer the top cop in the City of Prichard, a Mobile County Circuit Judge has ruled. "Defendant Jimmie Gardner's employment as police chief of the city of Prichard has terminated," Judge Charles Graddick wrote in court documents filed Wednesday.
The ruling comes after Mayor Troy Ephriam filed a restraining order on behalf of the city against Gardner after he refused to leave his office despite receiving a termination letter December 20.
Mobile County Circuit Judge Joseph Johnston granted the order December 26, records show. Johnston said a final order would be made once the restraining order had expired.
At issue was the termination letter hand-delivered to Gardner by Ephriam's Chief of Staff Eddie Brown. "This decision is made after careful thought and consideration for what I believe is for good cause and in the best interest of the city," the letter said. The Mayor, however, was absent from the meeting, Gardner said. Instead he was greeted by Brown, the mayor's bodyguard, Lawrence Cowley, and police captains Dorothy Farrell and Charles Kennedy.
Ephriam named Farrell and Kennedy interim chiefs.
In a court hearing, Gardner argued the proper protocol to remove him from his post was not followed. He pointed to an Alabama code regarding chiefs which said they "shall be removed from office only upon recommendation of the mayor with the approval of four council members."
However, in his final ruling on the matter, Graddick said Gardner's 2 year contract had expired November 20, making Gardner an at-will employee, who could be terminated at any time.
"It is clear that Gardner was originally an employee for a specific term. His contract contained a specific two year term. Consequently, the Court finds that the City properly conceded that Gardner was entitled to the protections of Ala. Code § 11-43c-38(a) during the term of his employment. The Court agrees with the City’s position that after the expiration of the term, the post of police chief was effectively vacant, and the next step was for the Mayor to appoint a new chief or reappoint Gardner and submit the choice to the Council for a vote. However, even if Gardner’s employment did continue for the one month he retained the position, he was at best an at will employee who served at the pleasure of the Mayor who is the appointing authority for the position of police chief," Graddick wrote.
Before Ephriam was sworn in as Mayor, the previous city council voted 3-2 to approve a 5 year contract extension for Gardner and the Fire Chief. Ephriam, who was still a city councilman at the time expressed his frustration, arguing the contract extents ion was not valid. Graddick, in his ruling Wednesday agreed.
"The evidence clearly established that neither of the two attempts by the City Council to provide a new contract for Chief Gardner prior to November 2012 achieved the required four votes. The March 22, 2012 vote had two votes in favor, one against, and two abstentions, whereas the October 25, 2012 vote had three votes in favor and 2 abstentions. Gardner never received a new five year contract," Graddick wrote.
Local 15 News Reporter Christian Jennings is getting reaction to the ruling from both sides. Look for her updates on Local 15 News at 5pm and local15tv.com.