SENECA, Mo. —
Although the Seneca City Council voted unanimously this week to hire James Altic as the new police chief, a Seneca businessman and a former fire chief are questioning the decision.
John Abernathy, whose family owns several businesses in Seneca, said he thinks the city should have hired someone who lives in the town, although there is no city ordinance requiring that for the chief.
Altic, who lives in Cherokee County, Kan., has said he will move to Seneca.
City regulations require that the chief live in the “trade area,” which is defined as half the distance between Seneca and the nearest community.
Abernathy, whose father, Denny Abernathy, also was an applicant for police chief, said he takes issue with the hiring of Altic because one of the requirements in the city’s advertisement for the position stated that the successful candidate “must reside in the city limits of Seneca, Missouri.”
“It’s unfair to the local people who have applied,” John Abernathy said. “You’ve got local people who could have taken the position and done it just fine, and you’re hiring a guy who lives outside of town.”
John Abernathy said he ended up walking out of Monday night’s meeting when Altic was hired.
“It was just ridiculous,” he said.
Rick Hogan, a former Seneca fire chief, said that while he thinks the city’s advertisement was poorly worded, he believes it is a safety issue.
“I feel that when a man is in charge of people in emergency services, he needs to be there,” Hogan said. “It’s not right for a leader to be outside of the area. He should be available at any time.”
Hogan said the chief is the only backup for Seneca’s police officers.
“If you have an officer in danger, in 20 minutes you can have a dead officer,” he said. “You need somebody that can be there in three minutes.”
John Abernathy and Hogan both said they believe Altic is otherwise qualified for the position.
“It’s a matter of doing what you say you’re going to do,” John Abernathy said. “They’ve got one set of rules for one guy and a different set of rules for everybody else. They decided he was qualified and decided to bend the rules for him.”
Denny Abernathy said he was “a little disappointed” when he heard that Altic was offered the position. Despite that, he also said Altic is qualified.
Mayor Mark Bennett said the council was not looking for an individual, but rather for the best set of qualifications to fill the post. He said he believes the council did its due diligence before hiring Altic.
Mayor Pro Tem Cecil Vance said the council followed proper procedures in hiring Altic and selected the most qualified candidate. He said he interpreted the ad to indicate that a person did not have to be a resident when applying for the job.
Vance said that whenever nonresidents are hired for city positions, they should be allowed a reasonable time to sell their home and move to the community. He said Altic plans to sell his property and move to Seneca, but that will take some time. Bennett said no deadline has been established for Altic to move to the area.
Altic said he moved to his home near Galena, Kan., after the Joplin Police Department dropped its residency requirement. He said he plans to move but will need time. He said that while he lives in another state, the distance to Seneca is not unreasonable.
“I’m 15 minutes down the road,” he said.
BEFORE BEING HIRED as Seneca police chief, James Altic was a corporal with the Joplin Police Department, where he worked for 20 years. He was assigned to the FBI office in Joplin for the past six years. “I know several people in the community, and I have a grasp on what the issues are for this area,” he said. “I know the judges and the prosecutors, so that makes the change a lot easier.”