So, what now? What does the City do to appoint a chief of police?

Published 1:55 pm Saturday, April 8, 2023

Brookhaven has always conducted elections for its top law enforcement officer. This will be the first time the City will hire someone for the role.

The next Brookhaven municipal election is June 2025. Reelected or newly-elected officials will take office July 2025.

When he presented the motion to make the change Tuesday, Alderman-at-large Don Underwood said he wanted to do it now in order to give enough notice to anyone who was planning to run for the position next.

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Following the vote Tuesday, Police Chief Kenneth Collins said he was upset in part because the Chief of Police office has been one of the few ways a black man could be elected in the city. Mayor and aldermen are the only other municipal jobs that are elected positions.

Collins is the third black man to serve as chief, directly following Arlustra “Pap” Henderson (2001-2013) and Bobby Bell (2013-2017). Both men retired.

Collins ran successfully in 2017 and was reelected in 2021.

The 2020 Mississippi Code Statue 21-3-3 says a municipality has the power to “provide that all or any of (its) officers, except those of mayor and aldermen, shall be … appointed by the said governing authorities. Any action taken by the governing authorities to make any of such offices appointive shall be by ordinance of such municipality …”

According to the statute, an ordinance must be passed by the City’s Board in order to appoint a municipal judge, tax collector/assessor, marshal or chief of police instead of conduct an election for that position. The only time limitation on the ordinance is that it cannot be enacted within 90 days of a municipal election, meaning the Brookhaven Board could have waited until February 2025 and still created the new ordinance.

No other action is required by the Board, and the decision is the board’s alone. Any appeal to the process would require an appeal of the State statute to the Mississippi Supreme Court, according to City Attorney Bobby Moak.

“The appointed chief will serve at the will and pleasure of the Board,” Moak said. “And the appointed person does not have to reside within the incorporated limits of the city.”

With more than two years remaining before the end of Police Chief Kenneth Collins’ elected second term, it should be enough time — more than needed, according to Mayor Joe Cox — for the board to determine what salary they will offer, what changes will be made in the job description, and what changes may be made in hierarchy and to whom officers and employees report. These decisions have not yet been made.

Representatives from the Mayor’s office said the City had no further comment on the issue at this time.