Lawrence police chief resigning to pursue ‘other opportunities’; separation agreement includes $106K payment
photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo
Updated at 4:31 p.m. Monday:
Lawrence Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. is stepping down from his position, the city announced Monday, just a few months after most members of the police union voted that they did not have confidence in his ability to lead the department.
Burns’ employment with the city will end June 12, according to a Monday news release from the office of Lawrence City Manager Craig Owens.
“I have accomplished many of the goals I set out to achieve here in Lawrence, and the time is right for my family and me to pursue other opportunities,” Burns said in the release.
The city will pay Burns a single lump sum of $106,805, minus taxes, deductions and withholdings, representing nine months of pay, according to a separation agreement in Tuesday’s City Commission meeting agenda.
• May 19, 2020: Lawrence City Commission approves separation agreement to pay up to $126.8K to outgoing police chief, forgoing discussion
The document states that the city and Burns have “reached a mutual decision” to conclude Burns’ employment, and that the city “desires to provide Burns with certain benefits to assist him” in the transition. In exchange for these benefits, Burns agrees to waive any claims he has or could have regarding his employment or its end, according to the agreement.
Burns will use 18 accrued days of vacation leave between Monday and June 11, the day prior to his resignation going into effect, according to the agreement.
The city attorney is recommending that the commission authorize the agreement.
Capt. Anthony Brixius, a nearly 17-year veteran of the department, has been appointed interim chief and will take over all day-to-day operations of the police department effective immediately, according to city spokesman Porter Arneill.
Burns had been the subject of a no-confidence vote by the Lawrence Police Officers Association, the Journal-World previously reported. A vast majority of the police union — 92 of 100 voting members — in late January voted “no” to this statement: “I have confidence in Chief Gregory Burns Jr.’s ability to effectively administer, manage, and lead the Lawrence Police Department.” Seven voters abstained; one voted “yes.”
The LPOA’s reasoning behind the vote of no confidence has remained unclear. Leadership of the union has declined to comment to the Journal-World with specifics.
“The LPOA wants to ensure our members are given the greatest opportunity to most effectively serve the people in this community, as that is our highest purpose,” Officer Bill Bradford, LPOA chair, said in an email to the Journal-World in February.
The newspaper found through an open records request that the union had expressed concerns to Owens. Bradford wrote in an email to Owens that if “appropriate leadership” was in place by May 14, the union would not publicly share the vote with the Lawrence City Commission.
However, Burns indicated to the Journal-World in February that he had no intention of stepping down from his position.
“I came to the City of Lawrence for the right reason, which was to carry on in my career with my calling to serve,” Burns told the Journal-World via email at the time. “I will continue doing my job. I have no further comment at this time.”
Owens, in a March 5 interview with the Journal-World, said that he thought unrest within LPD stemmed from a lack of direction and problems with communications.
“I have confidence in Chief Burns’ ability to contribute to our ongoing work of the police department and our organization, but I also recognize that members of our team are not feeling clear in where we’re headed,” Owens said at the time. “That’s important, not just for the police department — for everybody in our organization to get aligned with.”
Owens also said that he had “not had any sense of” any suspicions of malfeasance on the chief’s part, nor of improper administration of justice. He also said that he “did not pick up anything particularly about race” being an issue, and that “shouldn’t be out there on the table.” As the Journal-World has reported, Burns is the first black man to hold the title of Lawrence police chief, and his department comprises 86.5% white officers.
The Journal-World in February requested any available employment contracts between Burns and the city from September 2017 to present. City Clerk Sherri Riedemann responded that no records exist in response to the request.
The separation document includes a “mutual non-disparagement” agreement: Burns will not disparage the city or city officials, and the city, “to the extent permitted under law, agrees to instruct Police Department Command Staff and the City Manager not to disparage Burns while operating in their official capacity, and to not make or solicit any disparaging comments, statements, or the like to the media or to others while acting in their official capacity.”
Burns and the city also agree that the separation document is a “release of disputed claims,” that nothing in the agreement is an admission of any liability on the part of the city or city officials, and that the city denies the existence of any liability, according to the document.
Owens will also provide a “positive letter of reference” to Burns; if any potential employers contact the city, the city will only confirm Burns’ dates of employment, position held and rate of pay, according to the agreement.
In addition to the lump sum payment, the city agrees to reimburse Burns up to $10,000, less taxes and withholdings, for any loss he incurs in the sale of his home in Lawrence. The city will also pay him up to $10,000, less taxes and withholdings, for moving and relocation expenses.
Burns will “immediately” return all city property, including files, records, equipment, pagers, cellphones, uniforms, badges, firearms and keys, according to the agreement.
Burns, 49, was selected to lead the department after the retirement of former Chief Tarik Khatib. Burns started in his position on Oct. 2, 2017, after coming to Lawrence from the Louisville (Ky.) Metro Police Department. He did not immediately respond to an email Monday seeking further comment and inquiring about the new opportunities he is pursuing.
Brixius, who was hired to LPD in July 2003 and has ranked as a captain since 2013, previously served as interim chief between Khatib’s retirement and Burns’ start date.
“Leading this transition will be a team effort by the entire command staff,” Brixius said in a brief phone call Monday afternoon. “We have excellent employees and supervisors. We will continue to work to provide the best possible service for this great community.”
In Monday’s news release, Owens thanked Burns for his service to the city.
“He can take pride in a number of accomplishments in his tenure here, and we wish him the very best in his future endeavors,” Owens said in the release. “The community can be assured that the Lawrence Police Department will continue its mission to protect the safety of the community with dedication to good policing and high professionalism. I am excited about the future of the Lawrence Police Department.”
In addition, details on the search process for a new permanent chief will be forthcoming, the news release said.
The Lawrence City Commission will consider authorizing Owens to execute the separation agreement with Burns at its meeting, which begins at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.
The commission will convene virtually with limited staff members in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually, if they are able to do so, using temporary meeting procedures put in place to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Directions for submitting public comment and correspondence are included in the meeting agenda that is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.
Bradford did not immediately respond to an email from the Journal-World seeking comment on Monday.
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