After police chief's resignation, 41 Action News uncovers broken promise behind sudden departure

GARDNER, Kan. - During a January 6 city council meeting at Gardner City Hall, the topic of where the police chief lived took center stage.

The previous summer, after a nine-month recruitment and search process, city leaders had extended the police department's top job to Gerald Cullumber.

Cullumber had an extensive law enforcement background in the Kansas City area, including the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Lenexa Police Department.

Along with the $98,000 salary and other benefits of the job offer came one requirement: Cullumber would have to establish residency in Gardner within six months of his hire date.

But by January, that six-month deadline had passed.

"I've made every effort within my power to meet that deadline to be in this city," Cullumber told city leaders at that January council meeting.

Cullumber submitted a copy of a signed and notarized rental lease as proof he would be moving into a home starting February 1.

When one of the council members questioned the validity of the lease, pointing out the monthly rate was left blank, Cullumber bristled.

"If my word is good enough in federal court, Johnson County District Court, and city court, I feel my word is good enough here," he said. "You have my contract between me and you that says, 'I'll be here in February.' I will be here."

Council members voted to table the issue and Mayor Chris Morrow said that was the last time the issue came up in a public meeting.

“At one point, I bumped into him in town and I asked if everything was square with his residency. He told me it was,” Morrow told 41 Action News.

But on June 2, less than a year after taking the job, Cullumber abruptly resigned.

The sudden departure was announced at the end of a council meeting that night. City leaders said they could not provide details about the resignation because it was a personnel issue.

"People were confused," Morrow said, who added the police chief had already made several improvements to the department. "People just wanted answers and unfortunately, we're not always in a position to give them."

But 41 Action News has been digging to find an explanation for why Cullumber resigned.

Emails obtained by 41 Action News through an open-records request didn't offer many hints.

On the day of the announcement, Cullumber seemed to be conducting business as usual, setting up meetings for the following weeks.

A few days before the resignation, Cullumber told a friend he was staying busy at work.

“Think I’ll hang in there another 5 years and call it quits for good,” he wrote.

But a tip steered 41 Action News toward video of the January council meeting, where the contentious discussion about Cullumber’s residency had taken place.

41 Action News visited the neighborhood where the police chief had supposedly moved in February. Several neighbors said there had been no sign of the police chief.

“I haven’t seen anyone living in that house,” Cortnee Farris said. She lives across the street from the property.

41 Action News also requested utility usage records for the home, which revealed more details indicating the home has remained vacant. There were no charges for water usage. The electricity costs were not even high enough to keep a refrigerator running.

“I think that’s… telling,” Morrow carefully stated. “If he was living at an address that wasn’t using utilities, then he was living a pretty Spartan lifestyle that people in this neck of the woods aren’t used to.”

Cullumber did not respond to several emails or phone messages. 41 Action News even tried to stop by his Baldwin City, Kan. home (about 15 miles away from Gardner) without any luck. 

Meantime, after the lengthy search process to hire Cullumber, city leaders are eager to find his replacement more expeditiously. They have retained a national recruiting firm at a cost not to exceed $24,500 to help with the decision.

“Verify the things you’re being told,” Morrow said, when asked what he learned from the experience. “Even from the people whose integrity you hold in high esteem.”

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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