Community meeting held at Lewisburg church

Friday, September 5, 2014

By Karen Hall


Praying for a spirit of unity, almost 100 people gathered at Greater First Baptist Church Tuesday evening for a meeting that was City Councilman Steve Thomas's idea.

County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett was the first to speak after Rev. Herbert Johnson welcomed everyone.

Looking around the sanctuary, Liggett said, "I went to school with many of you, or our kids grew up together. There's always room for improvement. We can work together in peace and harmony, and there's a lot of work to be done."

Liggett said it was his honor and privilege to serve the county for four more years.

"The office door is open," he said, assuring people he would do his best to help them, though the answer to their problem might not always be what they wanted to hear.

"I'm glad to be here," said Lewisburg Mayor Jim Bingham. "Thank you for being here, and thanks to Councilman Thomas for having the foresight to call this meeting.

"What do we want from each other?" Bingham asked.

"Respect," exclaimed Gary Davis, president of the Marshall County Chapter of the NAACP.

"It begins with respect," agreed Bingham. "The more you interact, the closer you become; the more we socialize together, the better off we'll be. We're finally seeing ourselves as a family. We need to keep focused on what will be better for all citizens of Lewisburg."

Bingham said he, like Liggett, had an open door for all citizens.

"We are all about fairness and equal rights. The NAACP is there for anybody who needs to get justice," said Davis when it was his turn to speak. "If you're God-fearing, you have no reason to fear these law enforcement officers. Their job is to protect and serve, but there are good and bad people on both sides. We all need to watch what we do and say."

"We're very fortunate to have a great community," said Police Chief Chuck Forbis, who was there with Capt. Rebekah Mitchell, Officer Jackie Robinson, and Detective Sgt. David Henley. "We can't get complaisant. We have an open-door policy as well. If you have issues or questions or just want to talk, call or come by."

"It's important to be heard, and to have a safe place for conversation," said Thomas as he finished off the opening remarks.

The meeting was then turned over to questions from the audience.

These started with questions about police procedures, training, and community outreach, which were answered by Forbis.

Then the questions moved on to probation and probation officers, which were answered by District Attorney Robert Carter.

"How lucky you are to have the folks in law enforcement that you have in Marshall County," Carter began. "You made a good decision for your sheriff, and you made a good choice of chief. The officers are individuals like me and you; they're going to have to make the best decisions they can make. Talk to us and let's work together. That's the benefit of doing what you're doing tonight."

Forbis was asked what the police department paid for the big military vehicle they have, and what they were doing with it.

"It did not cost us a dime," he said. "It still belongs to the military, they're just letting us use it. It's worth $650,000."

The big vehicle would be used by the county's joint SWAT team, if the need arose, but so far, Forbis said, it's just been used for training.

Questions then turned to jobs, and whether new ones were coming in.

"How fortunate we are to have Greg Lowe," said Bingham. "Last year he got us 1,500 good jobs. Workforce development -- that's the thing that's frustrating us! The employers want someone who's dependable, and trainable, and will show up and get the job done."

Lowe reported that there would soon be 77 new jobs, starting at $14/hour, and he hoped to get a Certified Production Technician program going at Spot Lowe.

"I would like to see more students going to TCATS (Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology)," said Lowe. "It's workforce development we have to work on."

But what if you have a felony conviction?

"They're not hiring me because I have a criminal background," said one woman. "If you run a background check, you won't hire me."

"Everyone wants to be treated fairly, that's the bottom line," said Bingham. "Second chances is what we're all about."

Lowe recommended that the woman go the Career Center and ask them for help, or even to the Human Resource department of a company she wants to work for, and make a direct appeal.

"It will take extra effort on your part," he said. "The hardest thing is to get in front of the person who will listen to your story."

City Manager Randall Dunn pointed out that Lewisburg does not turn applicants away because they have a criminal record, and some of their finest employees do have a record.

"Kenny Ring gave me a chance," said one member of the audience. "Now I supervise inmates, and I used to be one. God wants you officials to make sure its equal for everyone."

This was greeted by applause and cheers.

The meeting ended with promises to do it again, and talk in more detail about many of the questions raised.

Rev. Raphael Alexander offered the benediction, and the crowd dispersed after nearly two hours, pleased with the connections that had been made.