PAULDING COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr uncovered the resignation letter of the Hiram police chief but when she visited police headquarters to ask about it, they locked the doors on her.
Through a tip and an open-records request, Carr discovered Police Chief Todd Vande Zande is on his way out amid a private investigation into his department's operations.
In the letter, Vande Zande says he wants his resignation "to eliminate the council's need to discuss in any detail the findings of that investigation."
Once the chief sent someone to tell Carr he was declining an interview about his resignation letter, we pulled around to the front of the building to shoot video, and she heard the front door of the public building locked behind her.
The city attorney wasn't willing to explain on camera why the city would accept the police chief's terms of resignation, blasting the investigator's credibility and stating that he "hopes" his offer of a resignation "will alleviate the need" for council "to spend any time discussing this issue at length."
To date, the investigation has cost taxpayers nearly $10,000.
Thirteen officers have left the department since the chief took over in 2013. We're only talking an approximate 21-officer force so the recent departures of new and veteran officers alike were of great concern to the City Council. Enough so that they hired private investigator Jim Baker, who presented his findings to the council during a closed-door, executive session on Tuesday night.
Whatever Baker found, it's something Vande Zande doesn't want discussed.
We ran into a helpful officer in the parking lot of the police station around lunchtime and he offered to call the chief for us. The chief, in turn, sent his own message while we were parked outside.
He sent that officer out to say he declined an interview and then they locked the doors to the police department, a public building, so we couldn't get back in.
The investigation won't become a public record until later this month, but former and current officers describe a hostile work environment to us.
It's in line with the reason behind Vande Zande's 2012 termination from the assistant chief position in Canton.
In this termination letter, then-Chief Robert Merchant told Vande Zande, his "lack of strong and effective leadership had had a profound and negative impact on employee morale and performance."
The fact that Vande Zande isn't willing to discuss his unique request to conceal the investigators findings doesn't sit well with some city residents.
"Something seems fishy. He needs to be looked into. Absolutely. Without a shadow of a doubt," said resident Roger Allen.
The city's mayor has not returned a message about the conditions of Vande Zande's request.
On Tuesday night, the council is set to vote on more money, about $2,000 to finish paying for the private investigator's work.
We'll be able to access the records, by state law, later this month.
Vande Zande's resignation is effective in mid-April.
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