Interim City Manager John W.D. Bowling stepped down from the position Tuesday, saying he feared for his safety after a threat was made on his life, but an attorney who said he represents the man accused of making the threat claims his client is innocent.
A stunned audience at city hall listened as Mayor Bernie Hunstad read Bowling’s letter of resignation following an executive session for personnel matters that lasted less than an hour. In the letter, Bowling said he had concerns for his safety “resulting from a specific threat against my life, that prevents me from being able to serve further as interim city manager.”
Hunstad declined to comment on the nature of the threat, only saying he became aware of it late last week and noting that people who make such threats can be charged with a felony. Bowling said he would not comment beyond the statement in his letter to the commission.
Attorney Ephraim Helton of Danville, who also represented Paul Stansbury during his dismissal as city manager earlier this year, said late Tuesday that the perceived threat in question was actually only banter between employees.
According to Helton, public works employee Rick Henry was among a group of people discussing Bowling three or four weeks ago when one of the men present said Bowling was making him lose sleep. Helton said Henry asked whether the person had ever considered harming Bowling, and it was understood by everyone in the room that Henry was joking.
Helton said it wasn’t until last week that Henry received a notice from Assistant City Engineer Josh Morgan, one of those present when he made the comment, informing him he was being placed on administrative leave with pay. The notice, dated Aug. 11, cites a section of the employee handbook on endangering or threatening to endanger one’s self or others as well as workplace harrassment. Helton said Henry could return to work this week after undergoing a required mental evaluation. He said Henry is a 10-year employee of Danville who has been recognized for his service to the city in the past.
Helton said calling the comment a death threat and citing it as reason for resigning is actually little more than a smokescreen to divert attention from Bowling’s real reasons for wanting to end a tenure mired in controversy.
Police Chief Jay Newell said he had just been informed of a threat Monday and passed the case along to Kentucky State Police because the alleged threat was made by a city employee. Newell wouldn’t confirm or deny whether Henry is the subject of the investigation, only saying he requested an outside agency look into the matter to ensure full impartiality.
Trooper Jon Allen, acting public affairs officer with the Richmond state police post, said a case involving a threat made against the interim city manager has been referred to his office and turned over to state police detectives.
The agenda for Tuesday’s special meeting, which was called early Monday morning, included only the executive session and possible action. Hunstad said the commission has discussed possible replacements for Bowling and will contact those on the list to gauge interest before calling another special meeting.
A temporary city manager has not been named.
Hunstad and some others on the commission thanked Bowling for what they said has been a productive time on the job. Commissioner Gail Louis was emotional in thanking Bowling for his service.
“I can’t tell you how saddened I am,” Louis said. “You’ve done more in two-and-a-half months to bring the city back to where it should be than I could imagine.”