Warner Robins police assistant chief John Wagner was named Tuesday as the agency’s acting chief in the wake of the sudden retirement of Brett Evans.
Mayor Randy Toms said he exercised his authority as mayor to make the appointment, which he expects will be followed by a vote of council and Wagner serving as both assistant and acting chief for six months.
Evans, who has served the Warner Robins Police Department for more than 30 years, is on paid administrative leave until his official retirement date of April 19. Evans could not be reached for comment.
Evans’ decision to retire was “encouraged” by council members during a closed session Monday night, Toms said. Evans sent an email to those within the police department about his retirement afterward.
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Toms said there was continuing discussion at the session about morale, recruitment and retention and that there had been previous discussions about Evans retiring in the future.
Toms said he did not anticipate the chief deciding to retire Monday night in what he also described as a “mutual decision” by the chief and council.
“Chief Evans gave 32 years of his life to this city and to the law enforcement community, and I don’t want that to get lost in all the turmoil,” Toms said.
“Chief Evans is a great man who’s done a great job for this city and I want that to be the rally cry for us moving forward... We’re grateful for the service he’s given to this city ... and I will not have that robbed from him or from me.”
Discussions among city leaders about the direction of the department under Evans’ leadership date to 2018. Those talks may have led to Evans looking for a job elsewhere. Evans applied to become chief of police in Sevierville, Tennessee, last year.
Still, the fallout from Monday night’s closed session meeting was a surprise to Toms.
“I don’t know that the outcome wasn’t inevitable but at the same time I didn’t necessarily like the process,” Toms said. “I thought there was a better way to do it.”
Important to Toms, he said, is to “ease the concerns of all the employees throughout the city that are affected by the ripple effect. And they are ..... I hope employees don’t carry the attitude forward of, ‘Who’s next?’ “
As for the current state of his relationship with the other members of the City Council, Toms said, “We’re talking.
“If there is any strife, I think the first step is communication,” he said. “At least some of us are talking about the future.”
City Councilman Tim Thomas declined comment. Councilmen Daron Lee and Keith Lauritsen could not be reached for comment.
There are no plans for a search for a new chief.
“We’re going to evaluate how acting chief Wagner’s doing, and I think he’s going to do a fine job. So, we could be OK moving into the future,” Toms said. “But again, I want to focus on the fact that our intentions are very clear. We need to find the best way to improve morale, recruitment, retention.”
Those three focal points are the “marching orders” for the police department moving forward, Toms said.
Evans began working for the police department as a patrol officer in 1987 before rising through the ranks to eventually being named police chief in December 2003.
“We’ve been honored with the chief’s service for as many years we’ve had him at the police department,” Wagner said. “We’ve all learned from him and we’ve grown through his wisdom, and we certainly wish him the best.”
Wagner said he’s “honored that the mayor and council have faith in me to step into this acting position, and I will work to the best of my ability.”
He plans to use the knowledge gained from 27 years-plus of policing in Warner Robins, draw on the knowledge of others and rely on cooperation with other law enforcement agencies and the district attorney’s office.
“I love this community. I want to serve it well. I want it to be safe, and the first resource I’m going to tap into is our own people,” Wagner said. “The police department has amazing men and women that work here. Obviously, we have been searching for more and will continue to search for more.”
Staff writer Laura Corley contributed to this article.