SPD tech sparks council debate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

A disgruntled employee of the Selma Police Department began to air her displeasure over being suspended from her job before she was halted during Monday night’s City Council meeting, and asked to pursue proper channels.

The incident set off further debate, prompting Mayor James Perkins Jr., who later cut his report short of his usual length, to opt out for the evening.

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Clarissa Cole, the evidence technician at the SPD who had been placed on the meeting’s agenda by Councilman Cecil Williamson, prompted further debate later in the meeting on whether having her on the agenda was appropriate. Cole, who is serving a three-day suspension from her job, said she felt Chief Jimmy Martin was “targeting” her.

Martin declined to comment on Cole’s suspension. “This is a personnel matter. I don’t comment on personnel issues,” Martin said.

After being called to the podium to speak during the Citizen Request portion of the council meeting, Cole said Martin had even told her not to come inside police headquarters.

“He said I disrespected him. I feel like Chief Martin is targeting me,” Cole said. “I spoke with the personnel department on September 6, before it went any further than it already has. ”

At that point Perkins rose and cautioned Cole about accusations being made during the public meeting. Council President George Evans defended Cole’s right to speak “as a citizen.”

“She’s out of order,” Perkins said. “Just to be clear, the channel is to go through the personnel board. There is a procedure in place. This is an inappropriate venue for that.”

Val Jones, City personnel director, asked Cole if she wanted to have her grievance heard by the personnel board. She agreed, showing emotion before leaving the podium.

“I was already told that if I speak here I would be fired,” Cole said. “I’m ready to stand up for what I believe is right.”

Councilman Johnnie Leashore told Evans, “I implore you not to allow this to continue.”

Councilwoman Bennie Ruth Crenshaw told Cole she had rights, and encouraged her to seek proper channels and “follow it to the end.”

“He (Williamson) put you in harm’s way,” Crenshaw said of Williamson encouraging her to speak out. “He cares nothing about you. Be very careful about who you listen to.”

The matter was revisited later during the meeting, when Evans discussed how the meeting agendas took shape. He said each council member had the right to have items placed on the agenda, but the full council considered each item at the outset of each meeting and has an opportunity to vote items off the agenda before discussions begin. Leashore asked Evans to “reject any item” from being placed on the meeting agenda that is not under the authority of the council in the future.

Tension returned shortly afterwards, during the mayor’s report. Perkins was asked by Evans to see a copy of the 10-year solid waste management plan, which Perkins sought to have approved. Perkins said “there was a public meeting held, and I don’t recall seeing any of you there.”

The matter was tabled on a 5-4 vote until a copy is provided to council members.

“If something as important as a 10-year plan is to be passed, we would want to be knowledgeable of it,” Evans said.

“If you want to shadow box, go right ahead. I’m rope-a-doping,” Perkins said, leaving the podium.

“I can care less about politics,” Evans followed. “I’m talking business.”

In other business, council members:

Granted a non-exclusive 3-year franchise agreement to Alagasco.

Heard a request from Steven Jackson to schedule a city-wide clean-up.

Heard of progress in securing misplaced sales tax receipts inadvertently sent to Camp Hill.

Learned City Attorney Jimmy Nunn is revising the city’s livestock ordinance.

Went into executive session to hear of progress in the appeal of a $310,000 jury award against former police officers.

Heard reports from council members attending the recent National League of Cities Conference in Reno, Nev.