Police chief vote shows new alliances in Grantville
by W. Winston Skinner
Grantville City Council approved naming Lt. Scott Wilson as interim police chief – and, in so doing, illustrated the shifting political alliances on that board.
Council members Johnny Cooks and Barham Lundy have been at odds with Mayor Jim Sells for some time. Leonard Gomez and David Riley took office in January – having defeated incumbents with the endorsement and active campaigning of Sells.
The triumvirate of Sells, Gomez and Riley moved several initiatives forward during the first half of 2014, but the dismissal of Police Chief Doug Jordan revealed a rift. Both Gomez and Riley found fault with Sells’ actions in regard to Jordan.
On Monday, as the council met, it was clear there are now three groups:
• group one, Cooks and Lundy.
• group two, Gomez and Riley.
• group three, standing alone, the mayor.
Sells, however, continued to display his political acumen – moving back and forth among council factions to get business accomplished. The main item on Monday’s agenda was confirming Wilson’s appointment as interim chief, following Jordan’s resignation.
Sells is acting as city manager, after the firing of Johnny Williams earlier this year. In that role, Sells appointed Wilson, but the appointment required confirmation by the council. Riley made a motion to confirm Wilson, and Gomez seconded it.
Cooks then asked for the council to meet in executive session to discuss the appointment. “I respect what you’ve done,” Cooks told Sells. “You’ve acted responsibly. … You did the thing that should have been done.”
Cooks thanked Sells for keeping the council informed about steps being taken after Jordan’s resignation.
Because of the importance of the post, however, “this is one of those situations that I would like to go into executive session to have further discussion,” Cooks said. Lundy agreed.
“We need to move forward with integrity,” Cooks said.
The council having a full discussion of the appointment “will give some legitimacy to this decision,” Cooks said. “We have not discussed this. … It’s important for us to at least appear like we are doing the right thing.”
Gomez and Riley voted against going into closed session. Sells voted with Lundy and Cooks to do so. Upon returning from closed session, Riley made a motion to approve Wilson as interim chief. Gomez seconded the motion. Lundy and Cooks abstained, and Sells cast the deciding vote to approve the appointment.
“Somehow this council has to figure out a way to work together. We’re called in the charter to try to work together,” Sells told the council.
“This town needs a council working together, and it needs a mayor working with the council. It needs five people up here working together … so we can move forward,” Sells said.
A key to that process is hiring a new city manager. “I’m working very hard doing his job right now, but I’m not qualified to do his job,” Sells said.
Sells said he wants Grantville’s citizens “to be proud of the city government they have in place.”
In other business:
• The council unanimously approved a new ordinance that will limit when garbage can be on the street. It outlines that garbage should not be placed on the street before noon the day before pickup.
Any containers should be removed no later than noon the day after pickup. The ordinance also lists items the city does not pick up, such as batteries, paint and tires.
“This was put together at the council’s request,” City Attorney Mark Mitchell said.
Cooks had questions about pickups being missed. He said he put items out in conformance with the new ordinance, but the trash truck did not come on the appointed day. “Code enforcement can use some discretion when you’ve done all that you can,” Sells said.
• The council delayed an appointment to the downtown development authority to succeed Sandy Luttrell. Luttrell resigned with five weeks remaining in her term.
Sells recommended Royce Bemis be named to the post. Bemis has been active in promoting Grantville, but has lived outside the city. He is now leasing a home in the city.
Mitchell said the state law and local ordinance require DDA members to be “tax-paying residents” of the town. He said he is not sure if leasing a home qualifies.
“The landlord’s certainly going to use some of his rent to pay the taxes,” Sells said. The council agreed to let Mitchell look into the issue, which was delayed until July.