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Ashland City Council wants to discuss Bianca contract

for The Mail Tribune

Ashland Police Chief Mike Bianca's resignation is now in limbo.

During a Tuesday night meeting, an Ashland City Council majority voted to stop Mayor John Morrison and the city administration from acting on any new contract with Bianca.

Instead, Bianca's current contract will remain in place, at least until after the council discusses the issue of his departure during an executive session at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

Executive sessions are closed to the public.

Bianca said earlier this week that he was negotiating his early retirement from the police department.

— City officials had announced via the city Web site that Morrison had accepted Bianca's resignation. In making her motion to stop any new contract, Councilwoman Cate Hartzell asked to hold an executive session to discuss the dismissal of Bianca.

Under Ashland's city charter, the mayor has the authority to hire and fire department heads, but only with the consent of a council majority. Bianca cannot be dismissed without the council's consent, according to Ashland City Attorney Mike Franell.

Bianca, who received a vote of no confidence from the Ashland Police Association in July 2005, has been at the center of a debate about community policing in Ashland. Many residents say he embodies the community policing philosophy.

Those supporters came out in force at the council meeting, with several questioning the nature of the process.

Suddenly we are taken by shock and surprise by this unilateral decision behind closed doors with no input from the community, said resident Ralph Temple.

Peace House Executive Director Polly East called for mediation to resolve the discord in the police department and community.

But former Mayor Cathy Shaw said personnel issues must be handled in private to protect the city, and therefore taxpayers, from lawsuits.

This decision is not one for the community to make, Shaw said, noting her support for Morrison. It is between the mayor and Chief Bianca.

Bianca could not be reached late Tuesday for comment.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456.