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Poletis also testified that he didn't know Hedges was gay. (Hedges is now deceased.) But Dowdell said in a deposition that he recalled Poletis making reference to Hedges' sexual orientation.
Benson did not get an opportunity to put Poletis on the stand. A judge dismissed Hedges' case. An appeals court upheld the decision, ruling that the evidence showed Poletis relied more on his belief that Hedges was dangerous than on the fact that he was gay.
Afterward, Poletis said he felt vindicated.
Poletis turned 50 around the time he became chief in Lake Lotawana. In 2000, he sought a bigger job — that of Jackson County sheriff. But two weeks before the Democratic primary, a Kansas City Star story described the circumstances under which he had left the police departments in Prairie Village and Kansas City. Poletis finished third in the primary.
Wings clipped, Poletis strengthened his position as police chief in Lake Lotawana. In 2002, he was given the authority to make hiring decisions without having to go to the board of aldermen. He was also appointed "director of emergency management," which paid him an extra $150 a month.
Poletis developed a reputation for bullying. Gary Miller, the former president of the Prairie Township Rescue Unit (which answered Lake Lotawana's ambulance calls until 2003), sat down with Poletis after Poletis became chief. "He pretty much told me he was going to run EMS [emergency medical services]," Miller says. "From that day on, we didn't have a very good relationship."
Miller felt targeted by Poletis. He says a Lake Lotawana police officer used to follow his wife home from work.
"If you didn't kowtow to him, you weren't one of his favorites," Miller says.
Poletis says the ambulance service was "broken" and in need of an upgrade. "I had no ax to grind personally against Gary Miller whatsoever," he says.
At a meeting of the board of aldermen on November 19, 2002, Lenda Sue Harter said Lake Lotawana's police budget was "stupid." Harter noted that the $504,804 budget was about half of what Blue Springs — which is several times larger — paid for police protection.
Harter blamed the chief. "Poletis was always wanting more money, more money, more money," the former alderwoman tells The Pitch.
Harter's problems with Poletis went much deeper than the personnel and equipment he sought in his 13 years as chief. Harter was friends with George Hedges.
Harter was also friendly with Jo Ann Shirley, a city clerk who lost her job in 1997. Shirley and Poletis had clashed, Harter says. Shirley and Harter used to commiserate at Shirley's house. Harter says police cruisers often waited outside the house and then followed her home.
Harter has lived in Lake Lotawana with her husband, D.J., for 20 years. Both have served on the board of aldermen at various times. They grate on some people — Harter says she and her husband "tell it like it is." At a recent board of aldermen meeting, eyes rolled when D.J. took time to list some of his accomplishments.
"Those people are fools," Alderman David Needles says. "I don't know any other way to put it."
Terry Reed says Lenda Harter can come across as a "black helicopter" type — someone quick to see conspiracy and evildoing. Eventually, though, Reed came to believe that a lot of what she said was true.
For years, Harter had complained that city leaders were careless about spending and other matters. Eventually, a lack of financial discipline took its toll. In 2007, a group of residents created the Campaign for Lotawana to try to raise $500,000 to pay the city's debt. "She knew exactly what was going on," Reed says.