Fired Simpsonville Police Chief Keith Grounsell said Tuesday night that the city's refusal to grant a grievance hearing appealing his controversial termination by City Council last month may force him to file a lawsuit to regain his job.
Grounsell, following another raucous and contentious Council meeting, also indicated that he might even run for the next available seat on Council, which voted 5-2 on December 28 to terminate him after little more than three months on the job.
"My initial goal was to get my job back," Grounsell told Patch after the meeting. "I had no intentions of filing a lawsuit. But, if I'm going to continue to be slandered [by Council], and they're going to do me wrong and not tell the truth up there, I'm not going to have a choice…. I'm going to fight this thing to the end."
Grounsell said his first objective was "to clean the city up. My second objective is to get my job back. If I could do both of them, that's great. But I'm going to clean this city up regardless if I'm in this position or not, because I'm a taxpayer and I live in the city limits."
Asked if he planned to run for City Council, Grounsell said, "I'm not certain, but I've been asked."
Tuesday night's Council meeting followed a similar script to the previous one two weeks ago. Then, around 200 supporters rallied outside City Hall and later packed Council chambers to angrily call for Grounsell's reinstatement.
The chamber was packed again Tuesday night, as boisterous, sign-toting supporters reiterated demands that Council give Grounsell his job back and also give definitive reasons for Grounsell's dismissal.
Grounsell said in a detailed, 24-page grievance letter earlier this month that his dismissal stemmed largely on his insistence on disciplining former assistant police chief Colleen O'Neil for an alleged undisclosed affair with city fire chief Wesley Williams. The city, Grounsell alleged, feared a lawsuit from O'Neil if he pressed the matter since she had filed an EEOC complaint against the city after being passed over for the chief's job in favor of Grounsell last August.
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For Grounsell, and his many supporters, those reasons remain too vague and reek of inside politics.
"We voted you in — and we can vote you out," said Grounsell supporter Cathy Jacobson. "You have made a grave mistake. The citizens have made it clear they want Keith as their chief."
"As a result of Mr. Grounsell's termination, Simpsonville's leadership is now under tremendous scrutiny, as they rightfully should be, and your constituents are demanding answers, yet you refuse to provide any," Jacobson said.
"Matters will only continue to get worse until this situation is resolved," she added. "If you want to save face, and keep any of your dignity and respect from the community, I ask that once again City Council reevaluates its decision to terminate Mr. Grounsell."
Fellow Grounsell supporter Jack Burrett said the Council's termination of Grounsell had made Simpsonville "the butt of the joke in Greenville County."
Another supporter, Kay Ashe, told Council: "How many more times are you going to embarrass the city of Simpsonville."
The abuse didn't end when the 45-minute meeting adjourned. Grounsell supporters quickly pounced on Mayor Eichor, as well as city administrator Russ Hawes and Council member George Curtis, alleging everything from incompetence to corruption.
Amid the abuse, Eichor said the Council had followed the rules and the law in terminating Grounsell and he gave no indication that the Council planned to change its mind, despite the clamor of the crowd.
Still, he did indicate that the personal attacks against him had taken at least a little bit of a toll. "I"m 75, but I'm feeling 78 these days," he said.
The protests against Council's decision to terminate Grounsell aren't likely to abate soon. As the meeting broke up, several in the capacity crowd shouted, "see you next meeting!" while others chanted, "we want Keith!"
"These people think we're going away," Grounsell told Patch. "The people aren't going away. They (the Council) have awakened a sleeping giant in the citizens. In no other meeting has there ever been this much continuous support for one ongoing issue. And if these people do not see that, they'll be elected out of office very soon."
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