THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / The board of aldermen voted 5-2 Thursday night to suspend Willie Smith from the Solid Waste Department with pay after Smith was arrested for simple assault earlier in the day. Pictured at the meeting are (from left) Alderman at Large Karen Sullivan, Ward Five Alderman Fletcher Grice (standing), Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates, Mayor Joe Cox and Ward One Alderman Randy Belcher. Not pictured, but also present, were Ward Three Alderman Mary Wilson, Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes and Ward Six Alderman David Phillips.
THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / The board of aldermen voted 5-2 Thursday night to suspend Willie Smith from the Solid Waste Department with pay after Smith was arrested for simple assault earlier in the day. Pictured at the meeting are (from left) Alderman at Large Karen Sullivan, Ward Five Alderman Fletcher Grice (standing), Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates, Mayor Joe Cox and Ward One Alderman Randy Belcher. Not pictured, but also present, were Ward Three Alderman Mary Wilson, Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes and Ward Six Alderman David Phillips.

City supt. suspended after simple assault arrest

Published 11:50am Friday, April 18, 2014

The superintendent of the city’s solid waste department has been arrested on a simple assault charge in connection with an altercation with his supervisor, the director of the city public works department.

After the altercation, which occurred in the parking lot across from the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Government Complex around 8 a.m. Thursday, Willie Smith, solid waste department superintendent, was charged with punching Steve Moreton, the Brookhaven Public Works director, knocking him to the ground.

Smith was charged with simple assault by the Brookhaven Police Department.

Thursday night, at a specially called meeting, city aldermen voted 5-2 to suspend Smith with pay, and moved to schedule a hearing between the board and Smith.

“Acting in accordance with Mississippi state law, and following all legal and administrative policies, we have decided to vote on a motion to suspend Mr. Smith with pay,” Mayor Joe Cox said after a one-and-half hour executive session of the board of aldermen.

City workers, mostly from the solid waste department, crowd into the aldermen meeting Thursday night.
City workers, mostly from the solid waste department, crowd into the aldermen meeting Thursday night.

Wards Two Alderman Terry Bates and Ward Three Alderman Mary Wilson voted against suspending Smith with pay. The two aldermen said both Smith and Moreton should be suspended with pay as the facts play out.

“I feel that if there’s any question about what happened between those two, they both need to be suspended. I don’t think it’s right to just question one person,” Bates said. “It’s going to be difficult to get the full story about what happened because of this.”

No plans were made at Thursday’s meeting to question Moreton regarding the altercation.

At least a half dozen law enforcement patrol cars, a King’s Daughters Medical Center ambulance and shocked city workers gathered in the parking lot across from the complex in the wake of the assault. A King’s Daughters Medical Center paramedic attended to Moreton, but an ambulance did not take him to the hospital, according to Police Chief Bobby Bell.

Around 11 a.m. Thursday, city officials posted a notice of the 5 p.m. special called meeting on the city bulletin board. Some 25-30 workers, mostly from the Solid Waste Department, crowded into the spectator seats in the board room, some standing in the back.

After the meeting, City Attorney Joe Fernald noted, “We’ll wait to see exactly what the police report says, but from my understanding, it’s a simple matter. Smith has admitted to assaulting Mr. Moreton. You can’t assault your supervisor. No matter what the case.”

Smith was booked at the Lincoln County Jail Thursday morning. By Thursday afternoon, Smith had been released on bond in the amount of $506.50.

Pending a Justice Court report on the incident, the board will schedule a hearing with Smith to determine future action.

“We first need to find out what the Justice Court says. From there, the board will schedule a hearing that will allow Smith the opportunity to explain his actions,” Fernald said.

At the April 1 board of aldermen meeting, Mayor Cox suggested the need for a work session between Moreton and Smith in the attempt to try and hammer out some work-related issues. While the subsequent meeting went well, the work relationship between Smith and Moreton wasn’t brought up, Alderman Bates said.

Looking back, Bates sees a missed opportunity.

“I wish we could have tried to calm things down then. It just never came up at the meeting. We discussed other things, not their work relationship,” he said.

There were three options for the board in dealing with Smith’s case Thursday night. The board had the option of terminating Smith, suspending Smith with pay or suspending Smith without pay.

Smith has worked with the solid waste department for more than 30 years.