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HILLSVILLE — When soon-to-be-former Chief Greg Bolen of the Hillsville Police Department posted a photo of himself posed as Captain America on Facebook, he wasn’t aware of the impact it would make — besides drawing out a few chuckles, likes and shares.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m interested in comic books and superheroes, and I did this sort of thing to try to bring a different feel to [the department],” he said.
Too many times, he noted, officers take themselves too seriously. “I take my job seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously.”
Just a few days after uploading the photo, he received an unexpected visitor at his office. “It was after school, and this kid came up and knocked on the front door,” he said.
The boy explained that he was a fan of comic books, too, but his interest had become an instrument of torment from the bullies at his school. “When you posted that picture, it helped to take the heat off me,” the boy told him. “A lot of the kids know you, and I appreciate you doing that, because I don’t get picked on anymore.”
It was moments like this, Bolen said on Tuesday, that made the job worth donning his badge every morning and risking his life for. And, for 19 months, he said he was happy to work at his dream job.
But, over time, the positives became overshadowed by the negatives — the politics, the rumors and the constant threats to his sense of job security.
This week, Bolen decided he’d had enough, and officially resigned from his position as Hillsville’s police chief. He turned in his letter of resignation on June 30, which will be effective the week of July 14.
Rumors of Resignation
In an interview with The Gazette, Bolen said he was sick of always being on edge about the stability of his position.
“This job is hard enough to do… but when politics come into play, it’s just not a good situation. I am not a political person,” he told The Gazette on Tuesday, after news of his resignation had gone viral. “I just wanted to do my job. protect the citizens and serve any way I could.”
For months, rumors were floating around that, when town council members began their new terms on July 1, Bolen would be fired from his position. “I started hearing rumblings back in March and April, and after the [May] election came through, it really started going,” he said.
(The rumors were widespread. The Gazette also received calls, emails and letters asking about Bolen’s rumored fate, months before his resignation.)
He heard rumors on the street, online, at town council meetings and anywhere else he showed his face in recent months. “I couldn’t do a patrol without hearing people ask, ‘Well? Are they getting rid of you?’” said Bolen.
Eventually, he felt a complete loss of stability, he explained. “It felt like I was in limbo. Even the town officials… I’d hear one day that they were going to keep me, and then a couple of days later, they’d say ‘Well, they’re going to fire you.’ I don’t know anybody that could thrive, going to work every day and hearing that.”
The breaking point finally came one afternoon, he said. After spending hours that day working on grants for the department and going through piles of paperwork, he went out on a foot patrol and heard the same inquiries from three different people in a span of five minutes.
“I came back to the department and I thought, that’s just kind of it,” he said.
He went home and discussed the decision with his wife and kids, just like his family always does. “They’ve noticed. My wife said that they could tell I was miserable,” he said. “When the fun and the passion that you have for a job gets replaced with this kind of anxiety… I have to worry about my life most days, and I don’t need to worry about whether or not I will lose my job over politics.”
In the end, he chose not to be in the atmosphere any longer. “I may be giving up my dream job, but it’s not the dream job that I hoped it would be.”
Bolen had a little more than two weeks of vacation time left, so he put in his notice and took it all, putting his exit somewhere within the week of July 14.
After that, his goal is to play with his grandchildren, and take some time to think about his next move.
When he looks back over his time with the department, he focuses on the good moments, and feels good about the decisions that he made with the position. In the long run, he hopes that his exit might prove to be a wake-up call for the rest of the town.
“Maybe with my exit, this will make [officials] take notice,” he said. “Council should come together and work for the betterment of the town and its citizens, with no agendas. As a citizen of Hillsville, I hope that they will go forward and work together to become more united,” he said.
Town officials react
Hillsville officials reacted with shock to Greg Bolen’s resignation as police chief this week.
“It was a surprise to me,” said Town Manager Retta Jackson, who received Bolen’s letter on Monday. “No reason was given per se. He just handed in the letter.”
News of Bolen’s resignation was one of the first things that awaited Bill Tate, who began his term on council July 1. “It came as a shock that he resigned that quickly,” he said. “I thought that things were going good, but they must not have been.”
Neither Tate nor Jackson were aware of a plan to select a new police chief, they said Tuesday. Town council’s next scheduled meeting is July 14, but a special meeting could be called to address the matter, if members deem it necessary.
Council member David Young offered a somber response in an email to The Gazette on Tuesday afternoon. “Chief Bolen has performed his job with a professional manner over his tenure, and it saddens me to hear of his resignation,” he said. “I wish him the very best in his future.
“The friendship that I made with him will always remain in my heart, but he has made a decision that only he can make, and everyone should honor that.”
Tate confirmed that Bolen is currently using the vacation time that he had built up.
Bolen was hired on Dec. 1, 2012, as a replacement for Steve Williams, who had resigned as chief earlier that year.
Bolen cited the town’s political climate, community rumors about his job security and a lack of straight answers from town officials as reasons for his departure.
This parallels the fate of his predecessor — Williams and former town manager Larry South resigned in 2012 for similar reasons.
South said at the time that he and Williams resigned with the expectation that mayor-elect Greg Crowder and council member-elect David Young would have voted to let them go anyway.
“We anticipated that if we were here after July 1 [2012, when the new elected officials were to take office], we’d be terminated without the opportunity to prove ourselves to the new council, so we’re letting them start off with a clean slate,” South told The Gazette back then.
After a period of a few months with an interim chief, Bolen was hired by a split vote from council, with Crowder breaking the tie between Bolen supporters Young and Billy Walls Sr., and dissenters Greg Yonce and Ed Terry.
Bolen had served as an officer with the department before, and had additional experience as a criminal justice teacher at Carroll County High School.