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Burns chief resigns after political upheaval

Staff writer

Citing recent events in the city, Burns police chief Joel Womochil resigned a week ago.

His letter, which he gave to each city council member and read aloud during the Aug. 8 city council meeting, did not specify what events he referred to.

“Recent events have made me reflect on my responsibilities as a leader and the impact my decisions have on the lives of others,” Womochil wrote. “I wish to make it clear that the decision is not a sign of defeat or a lack of dedication to the city of Burns and its leadership.”

Although his resignation was effective as of that day, Womochil offered to assure a seamless transition for the next chief and to assist in selecting his replacement.

“I genuinely hope that my decision will be seen not as a retreat but as an opportunity for growth both for myself and the city,” Womochil wrote.

The city’s cleanup of a nuisance property in July led to political upheaval in Burns.

Property owner Michael Bass, who was cited by the fire chief March 9 for the condition of the property after firefighters allegedly could not extinguish a fire there before it spread to adjoining property because of its clutter, was ordered to abate the problem within 10 days.

After a May 22 public hearing about the property, council members passed a resolution that if the property was not in compliance with city ordinances by July 22, the city would have the property cleaned up. At the July 11 council meeting, Bass asked for more time to abate the property’s nuisance status, but council members declined to give him more time.

The property was cleaned up by a contractor hired by the city.

Bass, his girlfriend, Angie Dilks, and other townspeople complained about the cleanup. Dilks complained that Womochil had physically moved her when she was standing in front of cars on the property.

“There are a lot of emotions involved,” said city council member Rehea Huls.
We have a few citizens who are angry at the city. They want to throw mud, and they don’t trust us.”

Huls said the accusations are “pretty much false.”

Womochil said the incident was reviewed by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which decided no wrong had been done.

During a June 13 council meeting, three representatives of the sheriff’s office, where Womochil worked before he became Burns police chief, and county attorney Joel Ensey spoke to council members in executive session about Womochil, who is under investigation by Kansas Commission of Peace Officers’ Standards and Training. The agency has made no decisions on the matter.

Council members took no action after the sessions.

Burns mayor Mike Hammann could not be reached for comment on Womochil’s resignation.

Last modified Aug. 17, 2023

 

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