07/26/07 — Mount Olive chief refused to listen to allegations

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Mount Olive chief refused to listen to allegations

By Lee Williams
Published in News on July 26, 2007 1:45 PM

Former Mount Olive police Chief Emmett Ballree won't confirm or deny allegations that he used the town's credit card to gas up one or more personal vehicles.

But Mount Olive Town Manager Charles Brown said he has information to substantiate the claim that the credit card was used improperly.

Brown received a report about two weeks ago that Ballree filled up a personal vehicle and paid for the gas using the town's credit card. Using the town credit card for personal use is not allowed, according to town policy.

Brown investigated the allegation and addressed the issue with the Mount Olive Town Board in a closed door meeting.

Ballree, 48, learned that the meeting was about the police department in general and about him specifically. So he tracked down Brown to discuss the matter further Friday.

Ballree said Brown told him that some allegations had been made. Unwilling to subject himself and his family through an investigation, Ballree offered to resolve the matter by turning in his police badge.

"I'm not going to go through this again," Ballree said he told Brown. "I would rather resign."

With that, Ballree handed in his resignation putting an end to his 22-year law enforcement career with the Mount Olive Police Department, the last 13 years as chief.

"I just got fed up with the fighting," Ballree said.

At the time of his resignation, Ballree drew a salary of about $47,000.

When asked if he thought he should have waited to hear the charges against him before tendering his resignation, Ballree said, "No. You have to look at the totality of the situation."

Ballree said he had been embroiled in an investigation once before and it was too much for him -- and his family.

The town manager said in an earlier interview that Ballree was not forced to resign and that he did so on his "own volition." He also added that he did not plan to turn the matter to the State Bureau of Investigation and would not pursue charges in the case.

As far as he was concerned, Brown said, it was a "done deal."

Brown thanked Ballree for giving the town 22 years of "good service." He added that the allegation should not overshadow all of his hard work and service to the community.

Mount Olive police Maj. Ralph Schroeder has been tapped to serve as acting chief until a new appointment can be made.

When asked about how much allegedly was spent on the credit card and how much gas was pumped, Brown said he could not say for sure because it "was all one transaction."

He added that he could not say how many gallons actually went into Ballree's personal vehicle. But he felt confident that the allegation about the improper use of the credit card could be substantiated.

Calls made to town commissioners Ray Thompson, Jimmy Kornegay, Kenny Talton, Tom Preston and Mayor Ruff Huggins also yielded no details about how much was charged on the town's credit card. Information concerning the town's credit card purchases is public record.

Thompson deferred comment to Brown, and Huggins said the amount did not matter.

"What if it was 3 cents?" Huggins said. "What difference does it make? What are you trying to do? Crucify him?"

Huggins also hinted that giving such details was not in his scope of responsibilities. "I'm the mayor, not the town manager."

The mayor provided no details as to how many vehicles were allegedly filled up using the town's credit card or general details about the allegations that surrounded Ballree.

"I imagine the town manager talked to him about some infractions, but I don't know what it was," Huggins said.

Kornegay, Talton and Preston were unavailable for comment.

Ballree said he never found out what the allegation was, and he never had a chance to give an explanation.

In any case, Ballree declined to address the claim as to not disappoint the "gossipers" and "busy bodies."

"People are going to think what they want to think even if they have the facts," Ballree said. "In my mind, I had some valid explanations, but I felt like their minds were made up."

Ballree had just returned from the North Carolina Police Chiefs' Association conference in Atlantic Beach when he was presented with the issue.

Without providing details, Ballree said an allegation had been made against him previously, and the case was turned over to the SBI.

Ballree said he knew nothing would come of it, but he was told that the investigation had to run its course.

After a four-month investigation, Ballree said he was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Brown, however, did not substantiate Ballree's assertion and added "that was before my time."

Ballree said the SBI investigation took a toll on him and his family. So when he was posed with another allegation, Ballree said he took it as a sign that it was time to explore his options.

"Sometimes, you feel like you've done all that you can do and it's time to move on," he said.

Ballree said he has a criminal justice and a business degree from North Carolina Wesleyan College. He graduated with honors as summa cum laude and he believes his future looks promising.

He said Friday's incident was just the "kick in the pants" he needed to explore his options.

"I thought to myself, maybe somebody is trying to tell me to use those degrees that I worked so hard to get," he said.

Ballree said he is grateful that he had the chance to pursue his childhood dream and become a police officer. He also enjoyed serving as police chief and serving the citizens of Mount Olive.

But for all of the things he will miss, there are some things that Ballree said he is looking forward to putting behind him.

High turnover and "the politics" that came with the job topped his list.

"We had 22 officers that came through the department in the last five years," he said. "We were always training new people, and I don't foresee that changing, especially since other departments pay more money."

For Ballree, wearing the chief's stripes came with many challenges. And now that he is no longer police chief, the burden of trying to do so much with so few resources has been lifted from his shoulders.

"I feel like I made the right decision," he said. "I haven't had trouble sleeping for the last few nights. I don't have to lie awake at night wondering about the inexperience that we have on the streets -- either someone overreacting or underreacting. I don't miss the politics."

Ballree said he and his wife, Benita, are ready to make a fresh start.