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Mayor-elect forces out La Grange police chief

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By Andrew Henderson

La Grange Police Chief Frank Conway will no longer serve as police chief come the beginning of next year.

The end of Conway’s tenure comes at the request of La Grange mayor-elect John Black. Conway said Black recently informed him that next month, when Black is oficially sworn in as mayor on Jan. 1, 2019, that he would no longer be chief.

Conway, and the La Grange Police, confirmed the news with the Era.

“I want to thank the citizens of La Grange for a great career,” Conway said.

Black declined to go into detail about the contents of his discussion with Conway, saying their discussion was not meant for public knowledge.

“I don’t have anything to say about it,” Black said.

Black has served in numerous city and county capacities over the years: judge-executive, deputy judge-executive and mayor of La Grange. In last month’s election, he was once again elected to the mayoral seat.

While Black declined to confirm the exact contents of his conversation with Conway, he did say he intends to appoint a new police chief once he’s sworn in.

During the Oldham County Political Forum on Oct. 16, Black said he would “be transparent with everything.”

Current La Grange Mayor Joe Davenport said he was unaware of the decision until he heard news of it “through the grapevine” and saw posts on social media.

“I feel like I should have been informed since I’m still mayor of La Grange,” he said.

Davenport said upon hearing the news he called Conway to see if it was true, which Conway confirmed for him.

Davenport said he was disappointed to hear the news and that many city employees and La Grange citizens thought highly of Conway, who Davenport said has improved community policing in the city and risen morale in the department.

One of Conway’s accomplishments leading the police department was securing accreditation from the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police last year.

Accreditation from the association means an agency was “carefully measured against an established set of standards and has met or exceeded professionally accepted practices in law enforcement,” according to the association’s website.

Conway assumed the role as police chief in 2015 when former Police Chief Kevin Collett announced his retirement in late November 2014 after 12 years of being at the helm of the police force.

Under Collett’s tenure, Conway was a major and Collett’s second-in-command. Davenport, then the incoming mayor, asked Conway to take the position, which he accepted.

“Frank’s got the community in mind,” Davenport said in Nov. 2014 Era story. “With him being the next in line and his experience on the police force, that’s why I picked Frank. He’s the man for the job.”

In 2014, Conway said he was “humbled by the opportunity.”

“The only thing I want to do is work with the city, the council and the mayor to protect our citizens,” Conway said in the same Nov. 2014 Era story. “We’ll do what it takes (to do that).”

Davenport said he was unsure if Black, as mayor-elect, had the authority to do something like this since he’s not yet mayor.

Director of Municipal Law and Training for the Kentucky League of Cities, Morgain Patterson, said it wasn’t uncommon for mayor-elects to give city employees advanced notice when making a change.

“It has no official pull, but it’s not an uncommon practice,” Patterson said.

Shannon Pottie-Whitaker, who ran against Black for La Grange mayor, has made Facebook posts and online comments about the decision.

In an interview with the Era, she said Black asked Conway to write a letter explaining why Conway should remain police chief.

Black said about three weeks ago he approached Conway and asked for his professional resume so Conway could make his case as to why he should retain his position.

“It’s going to be a really big loss for the City of La Grange,” Pottie said.

Conway said he had the option to remain on the police force, but ultimately decided to retire, albeit four years earlier than he would have hoped. His last day as police chief will be Jan. 1, but he won’t officially retire until Feb. 1.

“I wish my officers the best,” Conway said.