River Falls’ question: Who can appoint chief?

Published 1:58 am Wednesday, November 16, 2016


After heated discussion among the River Falls town council, mayor and residents, it may ultimately be the court system who determines who has the power to appoint a police chief.

Mayor Patricia Gunter appointed Cody Warren chief at the new council’s organizational meeting last week. Earlier in the day, she had told then-Chief Greg Jackson she was making a change.

A standing-room only crowd, consisting of River Falls residents, local law enforcement and members of Jackson’s family attended the hour-and-a-half long meeting.

Veteran council member Richard Bowden brought up the issue of whether Jackson or Warren, should be the police chief.

“This is not about the individual that is in office or the one who was removed,” Bowden said.

Bowden said that he wished the council had a voice in the appointment of the chief.

“There are six people elected,” he said. “We as representatives need to consider (the decision) as a whole, not one person,” he said.

Gunter said she had the authority.

“I can. I may. I am,” she said.

Bowden said at the organizational meeting that he requested an ordinance to give the council authority, but said he felt that the council should have authority because of the precedent already set.

Bowden was referring to the fact that the previous council had appointed Jackson.

Gunter said that she had gotten research, an attorney’s opinion, and consulted with the town’s attorney, William Alverson.

“We can get an AG’s opinion for River Falls,” she said. “We can tell them what has taken place, and what the council’s opinion is and what mine is.”

Alverson said he had spoken to the League of Municipalities’ counsel, and that according to the Alabama Code, 11-43-4, that the council could determine by ordinance the other officers of the town. However, Alverson said that since there was no ordinance on record, then 11-43-81 would apply, which gives the mayor the powers of appointment.

Local attorney Allen Woodard, who was there on Jackson’s behalf, said that Alverson was incorrect. Woodard told the council that some 16 years ago, the town of Gantt had the exact same situation.

Then-Gantt Mayor Tommy Glidewell did not reappoint police chief Al Hayes.

Woodard said that Hayes was not afforded a pre-termination hearing or given a cause for his dismissal. Woodard said the case was litigated for three years and went before then-Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan.

“It went to a jury and Hayes got $25,00 in back pay,” Woodard said.

He explained that Section 11-43-5 of the Code says, “The council may provide for a tax assessor, tax collector, chief of police, and chief of the fire department and shall specifically prescribe their duties.”

“It’s crystal clear in section 5,” Woodard argued. “I won this case 14 years ago.”

Woodard argued that the League’s counsel was overlooking section 5 of the law and basing their entire opinion on 4.

“I’m mystified,” he said. “Section 5, gives the council all the power in the world.”

Alverson told the council he wasn’t practicing law when Woodard won that case.

He also agreed to contact the League and do other research to ensure he was giving the town the best legal counsel.

Bowden said he wanted to know if they had one chief or two chiefs. “Are we paying one or two,” he asked. “I’m concerned for the protection of our community.”

Gunter maintained that Warren is the police chief.

“I appointed Cody Warren,” she said.

Despite questioning from the council, Alverson said that he believes that Warren is the police chief.

“I have a lot of respect for Greg Jackson,” Alverson said. “I’ve just taken the law and applied what the league said.”

New town council member Harold Barnes said that numerous people in the town had contacted him about Jackson’s dismissal.

“Greg is only an acquaintance to me,” he said.

Barnes was concerned about the next four years with the already divisive council versus mayor.

“I don’t believe we should spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees,” Barnes said.

He was also concerned about letting the mayor’s one opinion blow a few thousand dollars.

“I don’t believe it will go that far,” Gunter said.

The council took steps to pass an ordinance to prevent the mayor from having control in the next administration.

Angela Boutwell spoke during the public comments section of the meeting and asked Gunter for a reason for not reappointing Jackson.

The council also asked that question.

“I found out I had a choice,” Gunter said.

The council was also upset because they said that Gunter failed to communicate her plans to appoint a new police chief with them.

“Our question is why we were not involved?” Bowden said. “The people have elected me. I need to be given respect and professionalism.”

Gunter apologized for it seeming disrespectful, but didn’t give an exact reason for her choice.

Woodard spoke again during the time for public comments and urged the council to make the appointment.

“With all respect to the mayor, it’s not your appointment,” he said. “All I can tell you is what the statute says.”

Alverson countered that the law says the council “may.”

Barnes said that it was just minced words and suggested that Alverson call the League and do some serious research before the case goes to a judge.

Nancy Canant also spoke and asked Gunter why not appoint one of the officers who are currently on the police force instead of someone who did not work for the town.

“Isn’t he Richard Moss’s step son?” she asked, referring to Warren.

A woman in the audience told Gunter she needed to answer that question.

“Yes, he is,” Gunter said. Moss is the former River Falls police chief who was indicted in 2012 on four counts of theft of property I, and one count of theft of property II for his involvement in the transfer or property from the city to him without council approval. as well as the use of city money to pay his personal bills.

Sara Bargainer said that the whole situation was sad.

“I have always felt Greg had my back,” she said. “I had his number.”

She also likened the current state of affairs to the previous administration.

“It’s like an instant replay,” she said. “Except the other one had more love.”

Bargainer said she meant no disrespect to Warren.

Daphne Peacock, also a resident of River Falls, approached the newspaper after the meeting and said that Jackson had really looked out for the residents of the town.

After the meeting, Gunter said she felt like she was making a good decision for the town of River Falls.

“I don’t have a personal vendetta against Greg,” she said.

Jackson said after the meeting that he didn’t want to hurt the town.

“I love everyone,” he said. “I’ve been here 13 years. I want to make it clear that this is not Cody’s fault. The people need to support their police department because they are all good guys and will uphold the law and protect them. I’m all for the town being protected.”