Vienna's former police chief, Vernon L. Jones, was dismissed from his job in 1983 after accusations that he misused hundreds of dollars in travel expense funds, according to documents released this week by town officials.
The documents, made public after a lawsuit by The Washington Post, contain accusations that Jones cut short business trips and used the advanced expense money paid to him by the town for personal expenditures.
They show that Jones reimbursed the town for $1,398.87 -- the amount that Vienna officials calculated that he misspent -- four days after he was dismissed Sept. 2, 1983.
Jones, who now lives in Ocean City, Md., said in a telephone interview: "I have paid the town everything I owe them. I did not resist this. I paid my debt in full. To me it's ridiculous to keep bringing this up and repeating it. What more do I have to do to make the press and the town happy?"
Vienna Mayor Charles A. Robinson, who supported the town's attempt to withhold the documents, said this week that Jones' reputation had been damaged by the disclosure that he had owed the town money. He said that Jones had been well regarded as police chief and that the dismissal "dismayed and upset" members of the Town Council.
Jones, a 23-year veteran of the town police who was police chief for 18 years, was dismissed without public explanation. A statement by the town at the time said Vienna could not release details of the dismissal because of the "Virginia Secrecy of Information Law." There is no such law in the state, and when the case went before a state judge, lawyers for the town cited the state's privacy law, contending that it prevented disclosure of the reasons for the chief's dismissal.
The Post contended that the state's Freedom of Information Act provided for the disclosure of documents covering spending by a public official. Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Middleton held that the Privacy Act did not bar disclosure of the records but that they could be released only after Jones had a chance to argue against the disclosure. When Jones did not appear at a court hearing on the matter this week, the documents were released.
Before Jones was dismissed, Vienna officials met with Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. to discuss the case and Horan declined to prosecute, citing a lack of evidence.
Essentially, the town's allegations against Jones were that he had failed to account fully for some advances he received to attend police conventions and seminars. According to the documents, Jones stayed only one night at a four-day meeting in August 1983 of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police in Norfolk. For that trip he received $389.72 in advance, according to the documents.
Earlier that month, Jones received $323.28 in advance money to attend a Federal Bureau of Investigation conference in Staunton, Va., the documents say. Vienna officials said that Jones attended just two days of the four-day conference, according to the documents.
After then-Town Manager Brackenridge H. Bentley confronted Jones with the findings, Jones wrote the town a check covering all the advance money he had received to attend both conferences.
Bentley said that Jones owed the town money for conferences as far back as 1972 in Atlanta, Blacksburg, Va., New Orleans, Fredericksburg, Va., Richmond, Salt Lake City and Charlottesville, according to the papers.
Bentley, who is now town manager in Front Royal, could not be reached for comment.
Jones' yearly salary at the time he was dismissed was $39,672. He now receives an annual pension from the town of $17,032.
In a memorandum for the record, Bentley also alleged that police officers had told him that Jones had apparently pocketed funds drawn from the town to pay informants in criminal investigations. Bentley's memorandum lists a dozen withdrawals made by Jones, ranging from $40 to $72. Bentley wrote that police investigators, "who would normally . . . receive the funds from the chief," said they had not received the money.
According to memos written by Bentley, he was told of Jones' misuse of town funds by Lt. Zed L. Childress, who at the time was the second-ranking officer in the town police force.
Childress was named police chief after Jones was dismissed, and was himself fired in June 1984 after internal squabbling and factionalism in the town police force sapped the officers' morale.
Until Jones was dismissed, Vienna employes were not required to submit records of their expenses on business trips. That policy was changed at the time of Jones' dismissal, and employes must now submit receipts for hotel bills, air fares, registration fees and other expenses, town officials say.