In a "Dear John" letter, Mayor Herenton instructed Memphis police director James Bolden to tender his resignation effective Tuesday morning. Deputy director Ray Schwill was also asked to step down.
Bolden announced his forced retirement Monday afternoon at a press conference outside the office he had occupied for just 17 months. "I know this came as a surprise to everyone. It definitely did to me," Bolden told a roomful of reporters and staffers.
Deputy chief Larry Godwin will serve as interim director, and Major Earnest Dobbins will replace Schwill. Both Bolden and Schwill, with 32 and almost 30 years of service, respectively, will receive full pension benefits. City Human Resources deputy director Suzanne Ratliff said Bolden will receive about $72,140 annually, while Schwill will receive $63,856.
Bolden called his resignation an "insignificant part of history," adding that "this too shall pass." The announcement came a little more than a week after the mayor chastised police officers for allegedly acting in an unprofessional manner during a traffic stop. Following the incident, Bolden issued a statement acknowledging the mayor's right to question the officers, but added: "From what we have determined, the officers followed all procedures. We have looked very closely at the information brought to our attention, and do not see any procedural violations." The letter requesting Bolden's resignation, delivered by the city's chief administrative officer, Keith McGee, did not give the director a reason for his "retirement." Bolden would not speculate on whether the mayor's decision was a result of the traffic incident, which involved two men. Herenton declined to comment before the Flyer went to press, but he was upset that Bolden did not contact him before issuing the statement supporting the officers. During Monday's press conference, Bolden said he tried to contact the mayor on five separate occasions, even as soon as 90 minutes after the incident occurred.
He also said that the mayor questioned the arrest of one of the two men for possession of cocaine. Bolden said he could not remember when he last spoke with the mayor before the incident. He did say that the last time he talked to Herenton, the mayor told him he thought the department was running smoothly. Bolden's resignation came when national accreditation officers are in Memphis surveying the department. Bolden was supposed to meet with that delegation Tuesday morning.
Bolden's and Schwill's resignations are the latest in a long line of forced resignations and retirements ordered by Herenton during his 12 years in office. Bolden is the fifth police director to serve under the mayor. Herenton fired his first director, Melvin Burgess, after two years on the job, citing "philosophical differences." In 1997, city attorney Monice Hagler Tate resigned when the mayor blamed her for inadequate city representation in a case against a fired police officer. Another police director, Bill Oldham, was asked to resign in December 1999, just nine months after his appointment. Last year, the mayor did not reappoint Memphis Light, Gas and Water president and CEO Herman Morris, saying that department operated like an "island unto itself" and did not communicate with him.
At one time or another, Herenton has also asked that the Memphis City Schools board, the Shelby County Schools board, and the Memphis City Council surrender their charters.
When asked about the mayor's resignation requests, Bolden said simply, "God help us ... . And I pray for this city." He added, "I've seen directors come in and go. Some of their tenures have been shorter than mine. I tell my wife, my family, and I told the staff, this is a temporary assignment. I'm just passing through."