Stewart: Chaplain deserves an answer

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lewisburg's best-known police chaplain has asked for "closure" from the City Council on whether he can, or will, be hired as a police officer.

Shaun Grant, an associate pastor at the First Assembly of God on West Ellington Parkway and one of three chaplains for police here, addressed the Council at the close of its December meeting.

"He thought he had a job at the last meeting," Councilman Quinn Stewart said of the circumstances. "He asked for an answer and he deserves an answer. I think that's only fair."

Stewart confirmed information that she wants Grant listed on the next agenda for the Council. It meets again on Jan. 12.

Grant was among the top candidates for a uniform job, but another officer with experience was hired. When she had to quit to care for her sick and elderly mother out of state, a police job reopened and Grant was seen as a logical candidate.

But he wasn't hired. City Manager Eddie Fuller said three of five councilmen told him they'd prefer a more experienced person.

In Lewisburg, the city manager serves at the pleasure of the city council. He's one of three city employees hired by the council. The other two are the city recorder who doubles as the city treasurer and the city attorney who maintains a separate private practice.

The Lewisburg Charter gives the city manager the responsibility of hiring all other city employees, but there's a Police Advisory Board appointed by the mayor. Former Mayor Bob Phillips said when he appointed members that they shouldn't expect all of their advice to be followed. The board recommended Grant.

Councilman Hershel Davis has said he believes that the job opening ought "to be posted" and applications should be received.

Fuller says he told Grant that the job would be posted "and that he could apply. We are an equal opportunity employer. I wish he would reapply. We're going to re-advertise.

"We got an application this week from a certified police officer," Fuller continued. "There may be some qualified officer out there so we don't have to spend the $3,000 for the academy."

The state police academy is in Donelson where the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission is headquartered to maintain records on certified officers.

The officer who left to care for her mother had to go through the Tennessee academy because her certification had expired when she was raising children.

"I don't understand that," Grant says of the financial point made about training costs since he would have to be certified after training at the academy.

He and the officer who had been hired would come with training costs, he said.

While the former officer had worked full-time elsewhere, Grant has been riding with police and has been a police chaplain.

"I do have a skill-set to bring to the table," Grant said. "I can do community-based programs."

Once trained at the academy, those skills will be available, he said.

Asked directly about being a pastor and the difficult aspects of police work, Grant confirmed that if he faced a law enforcement situation in which he would have to draw a gun and pull the trigger, then he would be able to do so knowing that the job and training demand that the bullet was fired to kill.

"I would be willing to fulfill all the duties of a police officer to protect - without hesitation," Grant said.

He would "not necessarily" be comfortable with it, be he said he feels sure in himself that he would be able to fulfill that duty.

Asked about dealing with dark issues in the lives of people encountered by police, and told that they're not choir boys, Grant replied that pastors don't always get the "clean, rosy smelling people. You get people who abuse their bodies, their families and others... You try to help them get to a place where they can reform. It's the same place that the police are already dealing with."

Police have a duty to arrest offenders, he said, "but a good pastor is not afraid to get his hands dirty... and help them get off drugs. I work with people all the time who made poor decisions in their life and they have hit rock bottom."

Grant said he understands that as a police chaplain and, potentially, as an officer, the jobs' responsibilities exclude proselytizing.

Grant's request to the Council came at the conclusion of an unusual meeting. Several votes on another police personnel issue resulted in consecutive counts of 2-3, or 3-2, thereby demonstrating a split among members of the Council on whether the panel should fire, discipline or retain a sergeant.

Grant should be listed on the agenda for the next Council meeting, says Councilman Ronald McRady who voted with Brandon for dismissal of the sergeant who was retained.

Asked about Grant's request to have "closure," McRady added, "But the Council isn't supposed to be making decisions on personnel for the city manager."

Referring to the debate and votes on the sergeant, McRady continued, "We weren't supposed to do that anyway."

The councilman emphasized that personnel decisions are to be made by the city manager.

Asked what he would do if he was the manager and a majority of the Council wanted a personnel decision that's different from his own judgment, McRady replied, "I'd stand my ground."

A city manager does "not need to be intimidated," McRady said.

Meanwhile, Grant aligns himself with another police chaplain.

The Rev. Steve Thomas, a member of the Police Advisory Board, said during the board's meeting when Grant was recommended that he saw the "Providence of God" at work that evening.

"I do remain positive," Grant said. "I do have faith that Jesus Christ, my Lord, will serve me."