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Fired Canton Cop Requests Hearing

Todd Vande Zande wants City Manager Scott Wood to recuse himself from any appellate proceedings.

In a letter formally appealing his termination as the city's assistant police chief, Todd Vande Zande asked that the  assign a hearing officer "who does not report to the City Manager" to oversee the appellate process.

City clerk Susan Stanton released the letter this morning, one day after the council went into executive session to discuss "possible litigation" against the city. The council did not return from that closed session to make any formal statements to the public.

Previously, the city's attorney has denied that City Manager Scott Wood had any involvement in Vande Zande's termination.

"It is my understanding that the City Manager had no input or role in deciding to terminate Mr. Vande Zande, and therefore the purported basis for any legal claim would not be true," Bobby Dyer wrote in an email on Aug. 6.

But Vande Zande has always refuted that.

"In my tenure and personal experience as an assistant department head with the City of Canton, the city manager has been involved in personnel decisions including the decision to terminate employees," Vande Zande wrote in the new letter, dated Aug. 10. "His insistence that he be consulted on any decision to suspend or terminate an employee was unequivocal. The notion that the City Manager was not involved in the decision to terminate my employment as an assistant department head is contrary to the standing practices at the City of Canton."

He claims that Wood fired him him because he refused to comply with the city manager's alleged order to run "an illegal background check" on community service worker Bill Bradley.

During the 10-minute public input period of the , Bradley accused Wood of being dismissive when he reported public works director Dave Cangemi for alleged misconduct.

"I was met with hostility," Bradley told the council at the meeting. "I was asked what I did for a living so this man could gauge my personality and my character. There was no empathy. There was nothing. I was dismissed and I was told I was looking for a lawsuit, which is ridiculous."

Wood, who gave Cangemi a letter of reprimand for calling Bradley a 5-letter expletive and an employee gay, said the "matter was addressed professionally, authoritatively, and conclusively immediately upon my learning of it on December 29, 2011."

Not so, according to Vande Zande, who claimed the city manager requested he violate "state law and my oath of office," and run a background check on Bradley.

Georgia law authorizes the dissemination of someone's criminal history for non-law enforcement purposes, John Bankhead, the spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, told Canton-Sixes Patch in April when Vande Zande first leveled the allegations against Wood.

While he could not comment on Vande Zande's claims specifically, he said: "The request to run a criminal history is not illegal. What can be a felony crime under Georgia law is the dissemination of criminal history record information that is not a public record.

"I guess a city official could ask, but running a criminal history would have to be for law enforcement purposes only unless it (is) for a felony conviction which is a public record."

The Wood-Vande Zande partnership was an acrimonious union that played out on television in April when WSB-TV aired a report about a .

Until that news report, the city said nothing about the stop, which led to the  and . The officer who stopped Wood turned off his microphone during the last portion of the stop, a violation of department policy.

After the story aired, Vande Zande defended the officer, but criticized Wood, who has oversight of the Canton Police Department. He said the . 

At the time, he was . He later  after he overheard a meeting between Wood, Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison and resident John Rust about the candidates for police chief. They were talking about Vande Zande. Garrison said there was nothing unusual about the meeting. Before Woodstock selected  as its police chief in February, City Manager Jeff Moon went to Garrison.

But Vande Zande took his concerns and others to the city council, which voted in April to  "to evaluate his effectiveness" as city manager. 

A few weeks later, Wood named Merchant, who had recently retired as chief of the Altamonte Springs, FL, Police Department, as Canton's new top law enforcement official.

Since Vande Zande's termination, Wood has referred all questions to Dyer because of the potential for litigation.

Lance LoRusso, Vande Zande's attorney, said he would "immediately seek injunctive and other relief through the Superior Court of Cherokee County against the City of Canton and individually against Wood and Merchant" if his client was fired.

So far, nothing has been filed with the court.

MORE ON BACKGROUND CHECKS

"OCGA 35-3-34 and 35-3-35 authorizes dissemination for non-law enforcement purposes. Dissemination for reasons other than administration of criminal justice requires the consent of the individual. Without consent, only felony convictions can be disseminated. 

FBI records can only be used for criminal justice purposes or criminal justice employment.

I guess a city official could ask, but running a criminal history would have to be for law enforcement purposes only unless it (is) for a felony conviction which is a public record. More information on obtaining a criminal history can be found on the GBI web site at http://gbi.georgia.gov/00/channel_modifieddate/0,2096,67862954_67866875,00.html"

GBI spokesman John Bankhead

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Etowahwah August 14, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Regardless of the circumstances, the City Manager should never have asked the Chief to violate his oath and then punish him for not going along with his scheme. Okay City Council, you have all the evidence you need to terminate Mr. Wood. Do it now before he causes our City more money, legal fees and embarrassment!
Justin Ready August 14, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Wood should be history after these events...I would hope!
Bill August 15, 2012 at 01:39 PM
I am so PROUD of OFFICER Vande Zande for doing his duty and upholding the law like a TOTAL professional. "I am praying for you sir and would like to shake your hand someday." ~Bill Bradley
Patricia Saye September 01, 2012 at 10:18 AM
Patricia I am very proud of officer Vande Zande for standing for himself in a time like this
Patricia Saye September 01, 2012 at 10:20 AM
Up
People are Crazy April 06, 2013 at 02:53 PM
...and Wood is still here , all these months later and all is forgotten and forgiven! It pretty much reflects the amount of respect one should have for everyone from the Mayor down to the officers. The hillbillies haven't moved into the era of professionalism yet. I am glad to see the former Interim Chief got a good job. Likely much better than the City of Canton.

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