Dresden Board fails to approve police chief nominee

 

A top item for discussion at Monday night’s meeting of the Dresden City Board concerned the appointment of a new police chief to fill the vacancy left by the recent retirement of Chief Randal Walker.

Mayor Jeff Washburn announced that the committee established for the purpose of locating a qualified officer to serve as Dresden’s new chief of police has nominated interim Police Chief Steve Howe for the job and Chad Cooper as assistant chief.

Alderman Gwin Anderson made a motion to accept the nominations and Alderwoman Joyce Hurt seconded the motion. However, not all board members agreed. When the roll was called, the board rejected the nomination on a split vote of 4-2. Those voting against the recommended appointments were alderpersons Lyndal Dilday, Sandra Klutts, Willie Parker and Kenneth Moore.

Mayor Washburn said following the vote that he would once again get the committee together to look at other options.  However, on Tuesday morning he said that he had since heard that some members of the committee who voted no did so to make a political point rather than voting to approve the police chief nominee recommended by a majority of the five member committee that Mayor Washburn appointed to assist him with making a recommendation to the full board.  The Mayor said “from what I hear, it appears that some members had their feelings hurt that they were not asked to sit on the committee that reviewed the applications and made the recommendation to the full board, so they got together in a group prior to the regular meeting and conducted a discussion and decided to vote against the nominee to make a political point rather than to vote on the merits of the nominee.”

The meeting that the group held both before the meeting and after the regular meeting violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Law (Sunshine Law), Washburn said.  He said that under the law, any actions taken by the group as a result of that unlawful gathering is voidable if the matter were taken to court and they could be restrained by the court from participating in further secret meetings of that nature.

Washburn said that the five person police chief applicant review committee that he appointed consisted of Vice-Mayor Gwin Anderson, Alderman Lyndal Dilday, Dresden citizen Melinda Goode, City Recorder Jennifer Branscum and himself.  He said “all of the meetings of that committee were open meetings and adequate public notice of those meetings were given such that any alderman who desired to attend and hear the discussions and how the recommendation was arrived at could have done so and even could have given their two cents worth if they chose to do so. “They chose not to do so,” Washburn said.  He added that the board had been given updates on the committee progress from start to finish and individual board members were all provided with copies of  all the application materials submitted by every applicant so that the board members had in their hands the same materials that the committee was reviewing.  The Mayor said he personally tried to give as much transparency to the review process as possible and that he had followed the same procedure that former Mayor Danny Forrester had used when selecting Jennifer Branscum as city recorder. He noted during the prior administration, the extensive vetting process had not been used when selecting two separate chiefs of police and that there was not any objection by alderpersons at that time.  He said that the current alderman also did not voice any objection to the process that he planned to use to make the nomination when he announced that process at the August board meeting.

Mayor Washburn added, “the city charter of Dresden gives the Mayor the sole authority to nominate department heads subject to approval of the city board.  This means that I alone could have reviewed the applications and made the nomination to the board for their approval without participation by representatives of the board or anyone else.  “I chose not to do it that way for the sake of transparency,” he said, “and look where that has gotten us.”  He said the end result was creating division within the police department, within the board, and within the community. “It is a shame that petty politics has entered into this very important decision making process,” he stated.

Speaking of the nominee for Chief of Police Steve Howe, Mayor Washburn said that Howe’s qualifications inclusive of his extensive law enforcement experience, training, and demonstrated ability to supervise the department personnel in a fair and straight forward manner were the factors that he and three other members of the committee solely used to make the nomination that Howe be the next Chief of Police for the City of Dresden.  He said, “Howe’s qualifications and ability to lead the department stood head and shoulders above the other applicants and that is why a majority of the committee selected him as the nominee.”   Washburn said that Howe also had been instrumental in spearheading the war against drugs in Dresden and securing literally dozens of arrest warrants and indictments against major drug dealers in Dresden during the past three years since he has been Mayor.  “That is no small accomplishment and I can confidently say that no other small town investigator in Northwest Tennessee and probably in Tennessee can lay claim to the successes that Howe has had here.  It will be a shame if Dresden loses this officer because of aldermen making a “political point.””

Washburn said he has not yet decided what steps he will take in regard to the nomination process. He noted however that under the charter the aldermen have no authority to select a chief of police unless the name comes to them as a recommendation by the mayor.

On another matter concerning the Weakley County Commission recently returning a vote of “no confidence” regarding the job performance of Weakley County Economic Development Director Ronnie Price, Mayor Washburn voiced his agreement with that assessment.

“I want to say over the past three years, I have reached the same conclusion,” Washburn said. “We have not received the full benefit and dedication to task that we should have. It’s not a wise use of tax dollars that the City of Dresden, the County of Weakley, and each of the other cities in Weakley County, have been paying into that program. I do not feel it is a wise use of tax dollars to be paying for county club memberships at the Jackson County Club for the director. I think the time spent playing golf should be used here in Weakley County recruiting industry.

“As a result of his efforts, over the past 12 years, Weakley County has moved from the top to near the bottom in employment.” He noted during the month of August, Weakley County had the second highest unemployment rate in the state. The mayor stated, during the 1980s, Weakley County had one of the lowest unemployment rates in Tennessee.

“The performance during the past 12 years is absolutely unacceptable,” Mayor Washburn said.

“When I was elected mayor, I ran on the promise that we were going in a new direction. I think (appointing) a new Weakley County Economic Development director should be one of those new directions that we should go in.”

Mayor Washburn stated Price announced he would be retiring next June as a result of the “no confidence” vote. “I believe personally, that next June is too late,” the mayor said. “That means we’re going to march in place for the next nine months and do absolutely nothing.” Mayor Washburn went on record that Weakley County “should do something different – to find somebody eager to get out and recruit industry.” Specifically, he stated when an industrial prospect comes to Weakley County, “We need follow-up and hard work on that – not just lip service as to what’s going on and being done. That’s been my observation of what’s been happening during the past three years I’ve served as mayor, and representing the citizens of Dresden that desire to be employed and have good-paying jobs.”

He added that members of the Weakley County Economic Development Board serving on a personnel committee are in the process of drafting new job requirements and will be searching for a new director. “Jobs for Northwest Tennessee and Weakley County are too important and too scarce for us to march in place for the next nine months,” the mayor said.

Dresden contributes approximately $17,000 annually to help support industrial recruitment operations of the Weakley County Economic Development Board. The county and other municipalities also provide financial support based on population.

“What happened, a couple of weeks ago at the last County Commission meeting, did not just come up out of thin air,” Washburn said. He noted Mayor Bynum and the five mayors of Weakley County met to discuss how they felt about the economic development of Weakley County. Washburn stated he was very vocal regarding this issue when the group met earlier this year.

In announcements, Mayor Washburn stated the Floating Wetlands Project at the city’s sewer lagoon has been completed and is operational. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it improves our phosphorous and nitrogen levels in our outflow to the Obion River,” Washburn said.

He added that the Alternative Transportation Grant on Evergreen Street is nearly completed. Stripping will be applied to cross-walks this week, pedestrian – traffic signals will be installed at the cross-walk at the Church of Christ and at a walking trail crossing on Linden Street.

“We have also negotiated with Universal Contractors, and they have agreed to repave 2,185 liner ft. of the walking trail,” Washburn said. He stated that problem areas of the trail will be fixed by adding/replacing asphalt as needed. The firm will also reapply pavement markings. While it does not completely repave all areas, it addresses of all of the problem areas identified by the board and engineers. Universal Contractors proposed doing the work next week, the mayor said.

The board voted to agree to the compromise agreement.

Under new business, Ford Construction Company was awarded a paving contract, after submitting the low bid totaling $76,151. The job includes paving and widening a 931 ft. section of Moore Street. The contract also calls for paving North Cedar Street from East Maple intersection to the bridge, which totals 1,500 ft. The bid price includes an optional driveway to the City Water Plant costing $2,500.

A budget amendment for the current fiscal year to reallocate funds and expenses was unanimously approved.

The resolution credits $174,934.61 in grant funds received for expense reimbursement for the Multimodal Phase 4 sidewalk project. It also budgets $46,356.84 in Rail to Trail Grant funds for expense reimbursement.

Grant funds received to reimburse the city for advertising expenses and street signs for the Farmers Market that totals $686.20 was approved.

Insurance reimbursement from a driver’s insurance company for damage/repair to a fire hydrant amounting to $675 was budgeted.

After reviewing fire hydrant maintenance bids, the board voted to award the contract to Rogers Hydrant Service, Inc. of McLemoresville, Tennessee, which submitted the low bid of $45 per hydrant per year. The service includes flushing out the hydrants. The contract also calls for $200 per day for each day they cut the grass and spray herbicide around fire hydrants.

Mayor Washburn announced it would cost the city $15,000 up front to do the survey work for two bridges TDOT proposes to replace under the Improve Act located on Evergreen Street Extended past the former prining company plant. However, he noted, since this money would be refunded, so there is no actual cost to the city. As for the larger Obion River Bridge, Weakley County has agreed to take on this project. The board approved moving forward with the bridge replacement.

Another important item on the agenda was the second and final reading of an ordinance outlining a drought management plan. The ordinance was approved by unanimous vote. The purpose of a drought management plan is to reduce water usage in the event existing water supplies are inadequate to meet the demand for potable water. It also identifies discretionary or non-essential water uses.

The greater the drought, the greater the rationing required.

The board also approved the second and final reading of a fireworks ordinance, which limits the times and locations fireworks may be ignited as follows: Fireworks may be discharged during the week of the July 4th holiday, between the hours of 12 noon and 11 p.m. The discharging of fireworks is allowed three calendar days prior to the Fourth of July and shall conclude at 11 p.m. on July 5th. In celebration of New Year’s, fireworks may be discharged between the hours of 8 p.m. on December 31 and 1 a.m. January 1. Fireworks may also be allowed on other occasions and times, as specified through a written permit signed by the mayor (or mayor’s designee) and fire chief.

In employee reports, Fire Chief Paul Hutcherson stated the floors at the firehouse are being repainted and LED lighting installed.

Community Development/Farmers Market Director DeDe McClure announced there are only four more Saturdays left for the Farmers Market. Octoberfest will be held Saturday, October 7 from 2-9 p.m. and will include a car show, live entertainment, farmers market, and other activities fun for the whole family.

Mayor Washburn mentioned there will be a fiber presentation from Frontier on Monday, October 30, at 6 p.m.

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