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Clarksville Town Council’s appointment of new police chief draws criticism

Newly seated Republican Clarksville Town Council member Darci Schiller speaks at a meeting.
Aprile Rickert
Newly seated Republican Clarksville Town Council member Darci Schiller voiced concerns Tuesday about the process of replacing the police chief.

The Clarksville Town Council named a new police chief this week as one of its first orders of business of the new term. Some residents and council members have raised concerns about the move.

At a meeting Tuesday, the Democratic-led council appointed Capt. Nathan Walls to head the Clarksville Police Department. He replaces Mark Palmer, who has served as chief for the past 12 years.

The council also voted 4-3 along party lines to create a new public safety director position, which Palmer has been offered.

“We would like to thank Mark Palmer for his many years of dedicated service to the Town of Clarksville,” Democratic Town Council President Ryan Ramsey said in a news release. “We look forward to everything that he will accomplish in his new role as Public Safety Director.”

This position will work with the town manager, council and department heads on long-term public safety plans, according to the release.

Mark Palmer
Town of Clarksville
Mark Palmer

Ramsey said Palmer initially brought the idea for the position more than a year ago. But Palmer said it was the council’s decision to move forward with its creation, and to appoint Walls as chief now.

Palmer said he learned in November that the council wanted to lead the department in a different direction.

He said Walls is a good officer who will do well, but he “did not like” how the board approached the move.

“I thought the … process could have been more open, transparent,” he said.

Palmer said he did not expect to leave the chief’s position this soon, and that he still had goals he wanted to work towards, including a new police substation.

Democratic Council Member Karen Henderson said in a statement to LPM News the change comes after a review of the police department.

“The nature of policing has changed over the decades and a fresh perspective is needed to improve, hire and retain qualified people,” she said.

Nathan Walls
Town of Clarksville
Nathan Walls

Walls praised Palmer for his 33 years of work with the department.

He added that he’s proud to step into the role and plans to hit the ground running.

“I have a job to do,” Walls said. “We need to keep our citizens safe, our residents safe, keep our businesses safe, and keep our school safe. If I can work through all those things and keep our guys focused and on track, we'll be fine.”

Newly seated Republican Council Member Darci Schiller and fellow Republican Council Member Jennifer Voignier said they felt the decision was pushed through quickly, without much space for discussion before the meeting,

“I am absolutely a ‘no,” Voignier said about the vote to create the public safety position. “This is so unbelievable of this council to just right off the bat … give somebody a few minutes to make a decision over something so important.”

Some members of the public also took issue with the decision at Tuesday’s meeting.

Resident Jim Kenney was among those who spoke during public comment after the vote.

“Hiring a police chief is very important,” he said. “It should be done in a thorough and professional process that is transparent to the public. Our new council has been in place less than 48 hours, yet in less than 48 hours they’ve hired a new police chief.”

Kenney questioned if the town developed selection criteria or considered other candidates.

Palmer’s wife, Deb Palmer, also spoke, saying though she recognizes the council’s right to name a new chief, she felt the move was political.

“My husband … is always respectful and fair,” she said. “He puts everyone — this police department and this town — before himself. No matter what you do tonight or what you all do to him tomorrow, this town will always be his priority.”

Palmer, who has served as chief both under Democratic and Republican leadership, said he’s always worked hard to keep politics out of the police department.

He will stay on the department as a captain. He said he and his wife will continue to serve the town.

“This is where we are, this is our life here,” he said. “So whether I’m on the police department or I’m doing something else, we are committed to the community.”

Walls will be sworn as chief on Thursday.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec Inc., the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation, and the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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