Childers: “Let me be very clear. I am sorry…”
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Amarillo Interim City Manager Terry Childers on Friday reasserted an apology for his behavior during recent phone calls with employees of the city’s 911 communications center, and repeated the sentiments several times during a new conference that ran more than an hour.
Citing some public “consternation” with his word choice of “sincerest regrets” in an apology statement he gave during Tuesday’s Amarillo City Council meeting, Childers said, “Let me be very clear. I am sorry for my behavior. I apologized to the three employees.”
Childers has been at the center of a public, media and social media firestorm due to his behavior on Feb. 14, during 911 phone calls to the Amarillo Emergency Communications Center. The interim city manager reported a briefcase and travel bag he left in front of his hotel room door had gone missing and demanded that officers respond to shut down the Residence Inn by Marriott, where he was staying, until the bags could be located.
Childers made two calls to 911 within the span of seven minutes on Feb. 14 and, not satisfied with the service he was receiving, demanded to be called back by a supervisor. The supervisor called him back 10 minutes after his initial call, according to time stamps on audio recordings of the calls released by the city.
While on the phone, Childers told 911 employees “I don’t think you know who you’re dealing with” and made threats regarding their jobs.
After bootlegged call recordings surfaced in the media and social media, the interim manager initially released a statement standing by changes he made to emergency communications center operations as a result of the interactions. He did not offer an apology for his behavior in the Feb. 26 statement but said that residents could listen to the calls and judge his actions for themselves.
On Friday, Childers said the city had “been through a difficult period” and “in no small way, I’ve contributed to some of that discord.”
Childers’ addressed questions from the media for more than 50 minutes during the news conference, repeating his apology several times but declining to “parse” particular pieces of the 911 conversations.
The interim manager said his upset behavior occurred because “there was a group of kids marauding through the hotel,” and the briefcase contained “fairly sensitive information” from the city, his wallet and personal contact information of numerous city department leaders.
Police notifications of crimes such as the stolen briefcase and bag generally are made through online or written reports, not through 911 calls seeking immediate assistance. The bags were later located.
During interviews Wednesday with Panhandle PBS for “Live Here,” Amarillo City Councilman Brian Eades and Mayor Paul Harpole said Childers informed them of changes he made to 911 operations but they first learned the content of the 911 conversations when leaked recordings of the calls showed up in media reports. To watch the full episode of "Live Here" and for additional resources go to PanhandlePBS.org/live-here.
Asked why he did not inform Eades and Harpole of the content of the calls, Childers said that improved communication would occur in the future.
“We’ll address that going forward,” he said.
Childers said he personally stopped a city investigation into the source of the 911 call leaks. “This is not the agenda,” he said.
Childers also separated the 911 call issue from talk that the public’s reaction and some calls for his ouster were racially motivated.
“No, I don’t think the negative responses are racial in their orientation,” Childers said.
The manager said he had one telephone call from a critic using racial slurs but ultimately decided not to “paint Amarillo with that broad brush.”
Childers said that, since his arrival in Amarillo, “The amount of encouragement and support that I have received has been overwhelming.”
Childers said putting fire and police supervisors in charge of the 911 call center had been a change contemplated for some time, and was a move the fire and police chiefs wanted. He made those changes on the heels of his experiences with the 911 call-takers but had been gathering information and complaints from residents and others before the incident.
The interim manager said matters such as his thought-to-be-stolen bags must continue to not be 911 emergencies because the city “couldn’t afford” the police manpower to make such incidents a 911 priority.