LAST NIGHT: Council abolishes Police Advisory Board

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lewisburg's Police Advisory Board was abolished by a 3-2 vote of the City Council on Tuesday.

Councilman Robin Minor seconded Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr.'s motion to disband the panel and Councilman Hershel Davis agreed.

Councilmen Ronald McRady and Quinn Brandon Stewart voted against eliminating the panel created about two years ago on a request from then-Mayor Bob Phillips.

Reasons cited for abolishing the panel appointed by the mayor include conflict over whether City Police Chaplain Shaun Grant, executive associate pastor of First Assembly of God, should have been hired as a police officer.

Grant had been recommended by the Advisory Board, but City Manager Eddie Fuller was advised by a majority of the Council that it would be better to hire someone with experience as a police officer and who, therefore, would probably already have been certified by the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission. That would avoid the cost of paying the state Police Academy for training a new officer. Fuller has advertised the opening in the Police Department.

Like the city attorney and city recorder, the manager works at the pleasure of the Council. The manager is charged by the City Charter with the responsibility to make and execute hiring and firing decisions, as well as the various options in between.

During the 3 p.m. meeting in City Hall, Minor read prepared remarks about the purpose of the now-defunct advisory panel, indicating he believes that it's been exceeding its authority. The panel sought an explanation from Fuller on why he had not hired Grant.

Minor also alleged that Police Chief Chuck Forbis has never consulted with him and that "I was always kept in the dark" on issues about which a councilman needed information.

"Let the city manager deal with the department the way he did before the board was created two years ago," said Minor, the first councilman appointed to the panel.

Whitehead succeeded Minor after Minor resigned nearly a year ago.

The Board's creation came with responsibilities and the number and therefore some of responsibilities were in dispute during the meeting as McRady countered some of Minor's points, including the number of duties assigned to the Board.

The first task facing the board when it was created was to make a recommendation on who should succeed Doug Alexander as chief of police. Alexander had been promoted to chief after serving as the school resource officer at Lewisburg Middle School. He was a corporal before becoming chief. After a confrontation with Stewart (then Miss Brandon) over unanswered questions regarding a police action, Alexander was returned to LMS as the SRO, but with sergeant stripes and an increased salary.

As a result of Council discussion last year, City Attorney Bill Haywood investigated allegations that Alexander had falsified his work-time records. Haywood concluded that Alexander had been overpaid. The Council voted 3-2 to have the sergeant to repay the overage. The array of votes on that issue was the same as Tuesday night's vote to disband the advisory board.

McRady countered Minor's points about advisory panelists' activities by re-examining officials' responsibilities.

"The only problem I've seen is that three councilmen have got involved in the Police Department when I've said the Council ought to stay out of the department," McRady said. "We're not to be dictating ... to any department."

Whitehead was "disturbed" by that, asserting a councilman's "right" to ask questions.

Minor agreed, adding, "It's strange that we've said we should stay out of police business... I've heard Doug Alexander's name until I'm sick of it."

Another review of officials' responsibilities was followed by a vote that was predicted by some observers and participants who commented after the meeting.

For more on this and other stories about news developments in Lewisburg and Marshall County, see Friday's edition of the Marshall County Tribune.