Water rate hike gets thumbs-up

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lewisburg councilmen sought clarification Tuesday on the validity of a handshake agreement between the city attorney and a former police chief's lawyer and on Monday he's returning to street patrol.

"We're getting out of the School Resource Officer program," City Manager Eddie Fuller said Thursday afternoon. Lewisburg Middle School SRO Doug Alexander "was ... offered a slot. He's starting Monday," thereby ending controversy over a disparity in pay between his compensation and what's paid county SROs.

Police Chief Chuck Forbis spoke with Alexander on Wednesday and he accepted, Fuller said. Alexander continues to be a city employee. His pay as a policeman in the patrol division was calculated based on his pay before he was chief plus raises he might have received since 2006.

Also Tuesday, the council cast the first of three required votes to increase rates for customers of the Lewisburg Water and Wastewater Department. Depending on usage, most customers might expect their utility bill to increase by $7-8 a month

While that's a result of environmental regulations, it's not welcomed.

The consequences of breaking a handshake agreement wouldn't have been pleasant, either, and there's been a split among councilmen on what should be done with regard to Alexander and the budget.

If the former chief was assigned to the patrol division, then the city would realize a savings for its budget by ending its funding for an SRO, according to discussion at two Council meetings. There's an opening in the patrol division. The position of captain was eliminated with David Ray's retirement.

A few years ago, Alexander was called to speak to the council, but at the podium in the council's chamber, he refused to respond to questions, mostly from Councilman Quinn Brandon Stewart. Among other circumstances, Alexander was reassigned to LMS as the SRO and, subsequently, Chuck Forbis was hired as police chief.

Tuesday night, Councilman Robin Minor sought clarification on the deal between Lewisburg and Alexander when he changed jobs.

"Was that a binding contract?" Minor asked Haywood.

"It's not in writing," Haywood said. "It was a gentlemen's agreement."

Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. asked, "What validity does that have?"

Haywood explained, "It's kind of a tit for tat. We gave something to give up something.'

It was to avoid a lawsuit by Alexander over his job, the lawyer said.

"If we withdraw our consideration, he could withdraw his and file a lawsuit," Haywood said.

Stewart, a practicing attorney in Marshall County, has said that doesn't scare her.

Pay for SROs has been controversial because Alexander is paid more than the other SROs who are patrolling high schools as sheriff's deputies.

"The action is due to the economic problems," Councilman Ronald McRady said of the possibility of the city withdrawing from its agreement with the school system on funding part of the salary paid to Alexander.

Noting the 17.3 percent unemployment rate here, McRady said, "People are being laid off. We're in the same situation...

"If someone wants to sue, I don't feel like I'm bound by somebody else's agreement," the councilman said. "I do feel bound by the city's citizens."