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Pendleton council member resigns, says ‘unconscionable police chief was reinstated’

Jessica Smith, former member of Pendleton Town Council. (Provided Photo/Jessica Smith)

PENDLETON, Ind. (WISH) — A member of the Pendleton Town Council resigned Monday, saying she no longer wants to be part of “a council whose priorities are so firmly in the grip of the good ole boys club.”

Jessica Smith says she was elected to the five-member council in 2014 and took office in January 2015. She was the first woman to serve as council president and held the position from 2019-2020.

Council members are elected for four-year terms. Smith’s term was set to end on Dec. 31, 2022. Each year, the council nominates a president and vice president. The current council president is Chet Babb, according to the town’s website.

In her letter to Town Clerk Oliva Pratt, Smith said she voted her “conscience and made the choices I thought were for the best of the town” but that the “values and principles of the current council do not represent” her own beliefs.

Smith in her letter says it is “unconscionable the police chief was reinstated after publicly mocking the Black Lives Matter movement, women, the LGBT community, and religious minorities” and claims that “good employees” have been fired while “insubordinate employees” were rehired.

In January 2019, the Town Council voted to fire Police Chief Marc Farrer, after the council’s Safety Board said Farrer had “recklessly eroded public trust” with Facebook posts that the leaders said showed bias against several minority groups. A document obtained by News 8 said some of the chief’s posts on Facebook showed bias against African-Americans, Muslims, liberals and people who identify as transgender. 

The board at that time said Farrer, who had been chief for 13 years at the time, broke several town policies, including neglect of duty and immoral conduct. The board also said another policy — failing to cooperate or be truthful — also was broken during the course of its investigation. 

The Town Council demoted Farrer to patrolman on March 8, 2019, the day he was supposed to bring his appeal of termination before the board. Instead, the council unanimously demoted him in a settlement agreement. He had been on paid administrative leave since Jan. 24, 2019. The demotion meant a pay cut from about $62,000 to about $46,000 annually. He received four weeks of unpaid leave and was to be on probation for a year and “successfully complete sensitivity and diversity training,” the agreement said.

Farrer read an apology at the meeting that was also part of the agreement:

“I want to publicly apologize to the citizens of Pendleton, the town council, and my fellow officers for my unprofessional Facebook posts. Although I never intended for these posts to be offensive, I take full responsibility for my actions. This will not happen again. I look forward to continuing to serve this great community as I return to the position of patrol officer.”

Marc Farrer, in March 2019, to the Town Council

Farrer was reinstated Aug. 8, 2019, in an unexpected move by the town council. It was added to the agenda after a three-hour meeting, media reports indicate. Meeting minutes show a motion to relieve Farrer of his contract and reinstate him as chief was made by Shane Davis, who now serves as vice president. Babb, Davis and Robert Jones voted yes. Smith, who was president of the council at the time, voted no, as did Jessica Bastin, who is no longer on the council.

Full text of Smith’s resignation letter:

Dear Ms. Pratt:

Please accept this as formal notice of my resignation from the Pendleton Town Council, effective immediately.

I am proud to have served as one of the youngest council members, and the first female council president in the town’s history. I am incredibly thankful to the people that placed their trust in me and supported me during my tenure. I voted my conscience and made the choices I thought were for the best of the town. Every decision I made, every vote I cast, I believed was the best decision for the town’s future.

Sadly, the values and principles of the current council do not represent my beliefs.

I find it unconscionable the police chief was reinstated after publicly mocking the Black Lives Matter movement, women, the LGBT community, and religious minorities. It is unacceptable that good employees were fired while insubordinate employees were rehired. Furthermore, it is unbelievable that current council members find it acceptable to use their position for their own personal gain.

In short, I no longer wish to remain connected to a council whose priorities are so firmly in the grip of the good ole boys club.

Jessica Smith, former Pendleton Town Council member

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