Last Friday, Bill Adams was looking at the Tulsa Board of County Commissioners agenda when he noticed the board was set to vote on outgoing Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s status as a retired peace officer.
The vote is typically a formality and the status is mainly symbolic. A deputy retires and the three county commissioners vote to allow the deputy to keep his or her gun and badge. In rare cases the retired deputy might be called upon by the mayor, county commissioners or governor to return to service in an emergency.
Hundreds of retired deputies have gone through the process without incident.
But the vote Monday was a little different. Glanz was charged in September with two misdemeanors following a lengthy grand jury investigation and months of scrutiny and criticism.
When Glanz officially resigns Nov. 1, in the eyes of many, he will do so in disgrace.
So to Adams, a former TCSO deputy, the symbolic nature of the request was inappropriate. He sat at his computer and fired off an email to all three county commissioners, saying he felt the vote was premature. With separate ongoing state and federal investigations into TCSO, it’s possible that Glanz might one day face a felony charge.
If that happened, it’s possible Glanz’s retired peace officer status would be revoked. Would the county want that black eye, Adams asked? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until the investigations were over?
Only one commissioner, District 3 County Commissioner Ron Peters, responded.
“Mr. Adams: What are your connections to the Smolen law firm,” Peters said in the email, which was provided by Adams to the media. Dan and Don Smolen — of the Smolen, Smolen and Roytmanem law firm — have filed numerous civil rights lawsuits against the sheriff’s office over the years, ranging from jail deaths to alleged on-duty brutality by deputies.
On Monday, by a 2-1 vote, the BOCC voted to let Glanz retain his peace officer status in retirement.
The relationship between the sheriff’s office and the public has frayed in the nearly seven months since reserve deputy Robert Bates shot and killed Eric Harris during a botched gun sting. And so has the relationship between the citizens and county government, as a more watchful eye has been turned toward public meetings. Interest and criticism of the commissioners has escalated.
“What’s frustrating to me,” BOCC chairman John Smaligo said following Monday’s vote, “is the projection of anger and distrust at the sheriff’s office that has bled over onto the Board of County Commissioners.”
Prior to Monday’s vote, Adams and Marq Lewis both spoke to the BOCC, urging them to vote no on the outgoing sheriff’s peace officer status. Lewis is founder of We The People Oklahoma, the grassroots group that collected signatures to empanel the grand jury that eventually indicted Glanz.
Neither Adams nor Lewis are unknown to county officials, as they have routinely attended public meetings since the Harris shooting. In July, each attended a meeting Keith held to discuss Glanz’s legal fees — the sheriff had sought and ultimately received the ability to use public money to fund his fight against the grand jury.
To Lewis, who told the BOCC on Monday that “the relationship between the county and the citizens” had been severed, the morning’s vote was just another sign of a disconnect between county citizens and their representatives.
“I think the problem is that the county has hid in the back for so long, and now they’re being exposed and called out for every little thing,” Lewis said following the meeting. “They don’t understand that the public is what matters; they’re in their own little bubble.”
Lewis said he was disappointed that, after almost seven months of scrutiny, “the citizens have to say ‘please do your job,’” to the commissioners. But Smaligo said the commissioners don’t have the authority to tell the sheriff what to do.
“That’s another frustrating thing … we don’t hire and fire the sheriff,” he said. “We don’t get to tell the sheriff how to run his office. Like the county treasurer, or court clerk’s office, or even the Mayor of Tulsa or the Governor of Oklahoma, they’re separately elected officials and in charge of their own office.”
However the commissioners sign off on expenditures by the sheriff’s office every week and serve on a budget board that approves his annual budget. Commissioners seldom question expenditures by the sheriff’s office.
The Board of County Commissioners also has the authority to remove Glanz from office, according to state law. That would require commissioners to present evidence of wrongdoing by Glanz.
Lewis said he feels the commissioners could have “made a stand” as the sordid sheriff’s office story has played out. In July, when they voted to let Glanz use public money in an attempt to fend off the grand jury, the commissioners first did so without allowing any public comment.
Amid outcry, Keith agreed to host a public forum to discuss the vote, then later asked for the item to be put back on a later agenda. The commissioners again voted in favor of Glanz.
Keith also told The Frontier in July that she had discussed retirement with Glanz, who at the time steadfastly refused to step down. Meanwhile, Smaligo said he was not convinced that Glanz should leave office and Peters said he believed that decision was up to Glanz.
Keith, the lone commissioner to vote no on Monday, said: “It’s been a tough year.”
“It’s hard to see your colleagues suffering, and to see mistakes made and wish it never happened, and to see (the Harris family) lose someone they shouldn’t have,” she said. “It’s been rough.”
Smaligo has been critical, at times, of Glanz. Once the sheriff was charged with two misdemeanor crimes, the board chairman said he thought the BOCC should review whether to name a county-funded law enforcement training center after Glanz, as planned.
“The reality is the county commissioners do not get a say in who the sheriff is or is not,” Smaligo said Monday. “If individuals are concerned about ways the sheriff’s office operates, I give them strong encouragement to meet with the sheriff, to request a meeting, to contact the sheriff through email or phone calls. To make their voices heard directly to their elected representative.”
Lewis said he and his attorney ,Laurie Phillips, requested several times through county spokesman Terry Simonson to meet with Glanz following the April shooting, but never received a response.
Lewis is set to speak with Undersheriff Rick Weigel — who assumed Glanz’s duties following the indictment — Nov. 3.