Despite Sherman City Manager Robby Hefton saying former Police Chief Otis Henry was asked to take on a different role in the department because of “deficiencies in his leadership,” Henry's most recent performance review rated him performing satisfactory or above in all categories.
In response to a public records request sent by the Herald Democrat in December, Sherman City Attorney Brandon Shelby said previously there were no documents related to a 2016 performance review, so the latest review on file was dated September 2015. The Herald Democrat received the performance reviews with Henry's personnel file as part of the request.
Other documents in his file indicate Henry was given pay raises every year as chief, including October 2016, about two months before the announcement of his retirement. A personnel action form dated Oct. 10, 2016, showed Henry's pay rate increased 3.5 percent with a 2 percent cost of living adjustment. The effective date was marked Oct. 1, 2016, and it was signed by the city manager.
Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch said the raise Henry received in 2016 was a market-based raise given across the board to all department heads.
Sherman announced on Dec. 8 that Henry would retire effective Jan. 1. On Dec. 12, Hefton named Zachary Flores as Henry's replacement, making Flores the acting chief the same day.
In a written statement issued Friday afternoon, Hefton said following Henry's decision to retire from the department after the city manager asked him to take on a “different role” with the force, Henry initially agreed to take on a consultant role for the city, but then declined that option. As part of the written statement, city staff said Henry has “retained legal counsel in relation to this matter.”
“First and foremost, I want to reiterate that the City of Sherman owes a debt of gratitude to Otis Henry for three decades of service to our extraordinary police department,” Hefton said in his statement. “However, after assessing the needs of the Sherman Police Department and speaking with numerous former and current members of SPD, it became clear that a change was necessary due to deficiencies in his leadership.”
On the day Henry's retirement was announced, emails between Hefton and Henry obtained by the Herald Democrat through the public records request show the city manager was concerned about rumors circulating on the subject.
“Media is prowling around with a lot of misinformation, and it is NOT coming from the City Manager's office,” Hefton wrote with the emphasis on the word “not” in an email at 1:24 p.m. that day. “I'd also like to draft something generic to send to the media to help with the misinformation.”
Hefton also asked the police chief to commit to sending out a message to all police department staff by the end of the next day, so they wouldn't “go through the weekend with a lot of uncertainty.” Henry responded at 1:36 p.m. by stating he'd like the release to include “some supportive and positive remarks” from the city manager.
Once the retirement announcement was drafted, Hefton sent it to Henry to review at 2:35 p.m. before it was released to the press.
“I'd like to get them settled down with something, and I think this is a good message,” Hefton wrote in reference to the press.
Henry's 2015 three-page performance review, which is signed by the police chief, the city manager and the human resources director, rates the police chief in professional skills, initiative, ethics, teamwork/cooperation, communication, management knowledge, leadership and gives an overall evaluation. Each category is broken down into related descriptions that are rated on a one to five basis.
The 2015 performance review had nearly all four and five ratings, which mean fully achieves/occasionally exceeds and excellent/exceeds expectations, respectively. The only boxes marked three, which indicates satisfactory, were in the teamwork/cooperation category, though both of those items were also marked with achieves/occasionally exceeds ratings. The items marked both three and four were for “Develops and maintains effective working relationships with others” and “Treats customers and staff with courtesy, respect, dignity, fairness, honest, and presents a positive public image.”
The comments for Teamwork/cooperation were written as follows: “Otis supports management's objective to his troops and conveys a message that 'we're in this together.' He promotes teamwork throughout his organization and the City overall. One area for improvement would be developing and maintaining courteous, effective working relationships with those within his department. As a whole, Otis works very well with peers throughout the City.”
Henry was given a four in the overall evaluation, and the comments praised Henry's work ethic, police knowledge and ability, however, a criticism was written as, “The one thing I'd like Otis to focus on improving is balancing the very high expectations he has for his department with developing and maintaining positive working relationships with his staff.”
Henry's attorney, Ed Richardson, said his client's evaluations were all very positive and that Henry also never received any verbal evaluations that would have indicated he needed to change his job performance.
“They caught him completely out of left field with this deal,” Richardson said, explaining that Henry began consulting with his firm shortly after his initial meeting with City Manager Robby Hefton.
“Otis had not received a performance review in 14 months, and suffice to say city management learned a lot of new information regarding the state of the department during that time period,” Strauch said via text message Monday.
Richardson said Henry was never really interested in the part-time consultant position Hefton said he offered the former police chief.
“I don't want to get into attorney-client privilege, but no, there was never any real consideration that he would take an alternate role with the city,” Richardson said. “In fact, the day that they ambushed him with all of this, they didn't have an alternate role to give him. In the settlement documents they gave to him that very first day, where they wanted him to waive any cause of action under the age discrimination act, it mentioned they were going to pay him something like $10,000 to be a part-time consultant over the next little bit, but I think that was basically “go away and be quiet money.”
In a performance review dated October 2013 to October 2014, Henry was given all fours and fives, and no criticisms were written in the comment sections under each category. The review was signed by former City Manager George Olsen. Henry's overall evaluation was marked with a score of four out of five possible.
Richardson said whether Henry and the city reach an agreement or the former police chief has to file suit against his former employer is ultimately up to the city.
“And after reading the very misguided comments from the mayor, it looks like rather than do their own in-house investigation and determine what happened right under their noses, potentially our elected officials are just going to go right along with this,” Richardson said.
In a statement sent to the Herald Democrat via email Friday, Sherman Mayor David Plyler said he was “incredibly saddened” that Henry “has decided to tarnish his legacy by threatening the taxpayers of this city with an expensive lawsuit.”
“It's not fair to our excellent new police chief, it's not fair to our hardworking city council and staff, and most of all, it's not fair to our citizens,” Plyler said. “We are disappointed that Otis has once again decided to use his lawyers to harm the integrity of the city of Sherman.”
Henry sued the city in 1996 while a patrolman because he believed he was passed over for a promotion to sergeant because of an affair with the wife of a fellow police officer. Richardson also said Friday these kinds of claims must go before the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission before they would ever reach the litigation stage.
Henry was named Sherman's chief of police in March 2013, taking over after former Chief Tom Watt retired. Henry began his career with the Sherman Police Department as a reserve officer in 1983 and worked his way up before being promoted to assistant chief in 2005.