Conflict over police issues continue

Friday, January 15, 2010
Tresha Grissom, standing at rear, holds her 2-1/2-year-old son Cohen in Lewisburg City Hall where it was standing room only for this month's meeting of the City Council.

A 3-2 split on Lewisburg's City Council re-emerged Tuesday and it was over police personnel issues again: hiring a chaplain to be an officer; and abolition of the Police Advisory Board.

Public discussion by elected officials of both issues was not conducted during the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Council in City Hall where a larger than normal audience assembled.

On Tuesday night, Councilmen Robin Minor, Odie Whitehead Jr. and Hershel Davis voted to stop discussion that might have given Police Chaplain Shaun Grant, an associate pastor at the First Assembly of God on West Ellington Parkway, an answer on whether he had a chance of becoming a uniformed officer.

Last month, Minor, Whitehead and Davis voted against sanctions more severe than insisting that Sgt. Doug Alexander, Lewisburg Middle School's School Resource Officer, repay wages he received in excess of his regularly scheduled time. Documents on allegations of theft led Police Chief Chuck Forbis to conclude that Alexander could be successfully prosecuted.

Grant sought "closure" on his dilemma at the December meeting and Councilman Quinn Brandon Stewart agreed, putting the issue on this month's agenda. City Manager Eddie Fuller said he'd learned from three councilmen last fall that they wanted someone with more experience and preferably a certified officer who wouldn't have to go to the police academy at city expense. That brought explanations that the city manager is the personnel officer, and that he works at the pleasure of the Council.

Grant "wanted an answer" from the Council on what happened, Stewart said Tuesday, "and I feel he should have an answer."

Councilman Ronald McRady, who voted with Stewart for dismissal of Alexander, asked Fuller to explain. The city manager said he told Grant that the city "would be taking applications again and it was suggested that he apply again."

Minor then moved to table discussion, a parliamentary procedure that requires a vote immediately. Davis seconded the motion and Whitehead voted with the two as McRady and Stewart voted against ending discussion.

"I'd like to know why these three councilmen don't want to discuss it," McRady said.

Mayor Barbara Woods noted the vote, so, "We can't discuss it," but McRady pressed on, saying there's public interest on the subject and a standing room only audience applauded. Woods repeated her point and led the Council to its next agenda topic.

Predictable votes followed to get rezoning matters on the table for discussion and a public hearing next month.

Agreement on other matters led the Council to its closing topic of "other business."

Then, Whitehead, the Council's representative on the Police Advisory Board who succeeded Minor after he resigned over a difference of opinion, moved to abolish the Board and Minor seconded the proposal.

The Board had recommended Grant be hired as a city police officer. Its members sought public explanations from the three councilmen on whether they tried to influence the city manager when Grant wasn't hired.

As its name states, the Police Advisory Board can't dictate to the city manager, a point made by Bob Phillips when he was mayor. Phillips also noted at the time that it was his opinion that the city manager welcomed such additional information to consider when he's to hire, fire or discipline police. The panel was created on a request from Phillips when he was mayor and a councilman made a motion to do so. It's not established by an ordinance that would require three successful votes and a public hearing. Nor was it created by a resolution, typically a pre-written document that's adopted or rejected with one vote of the council. A motion to do something, without a resolution, is a similar vehicle to accomplish something.

Immediately after Whitehead's motion to abolish the Board, Stewart said, "It's not on the agenda."

Whitehead called for a vote on his motion.

McRady moved to table it and the audience laughed and applauded.

City Attorney Bill Haywood was called upon to explain, as he did. Unless a plan for a decisive vote was advertised in a legal public notice, no vote on the matter is possible, according to the City Charter. That substantiated Stewart's point about Whitehead's move to disband the Board.

"You can't just bring something up and vote," Haywood said. "It can be discussed."

There was, however no vote to table discussion and the Council turned to the public comment period.

"I would like to, respectfully, withdraw my name" from consideration as an applicant to be a police officer, Grant said as the meeting was coming to an end.

Fuller and Grant had spoken about his situation, the police chaplain said, substantiating Fuller's earlier explanation to McRady.

Grant also thanked residents "who have supported me."

Turning to the Council, the chaplain said, "The citizens of this city are not blind and they see what's going on."

After the meeting, Whitehead had "No comment" on why he moved to disband the Police Advisory Board that was scheduled to meet Thursday night.

Board Chairwoman Lina Horner said, "I don't have anything to say" about Whitehead's motion.

The Rev. Steve Thomas, pastor of Belfast Presbyterian, another police chaplain and member of the Board, noted, "The motion (to disband) was out of order... I guess we'll be back."

Wayne Coomes, who serves on the advisory board because he's a former police chief here, said, "They never provided any reason why the Police Advisory Board should be disbanded. I've never heard a reason."

Stewart was asked if the Board should be disbanded and she replied, "I don't think so."

Mayor Barbara Woods said she didn't known the motion would be presented to the council.