Can the City go back like it was? Brookhaven Board requests AG opinion on reverting to an elected chief of police

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Can the City of Brookhaven go back to having an elected police chief? That’s up to the Attorney General to decide.

At the June 6 regular meeting of the Board of Aldermen, Ward 2 Alderman Shannon Moore asked board attorney Bobby Moak, “We can amend an ordinance in effect, correct?”

“You can amend any ordinance, but the question is whether it can happen or not,” Moak said, explaining the statute was unclear as to if a municipality could move from an appointed to an elected chief of police. “I would suggest we get direction from the Attorney General.”

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On April 4, the board voted 3-1 to make the top officer job an appointed rather than elected position. Alderman-at-large Don Underwood made the motion, Ward 6 Alderman Andre Spiller seconded, and Ward 4 Alderman Jeff Henning voted in support. Ward 5 Alderman Fletcher Grice voted against it, and remaining members abstained from voting. They were Ward 1 Alderman James Magee Jr., Moore, and Ward 3 Alderman Charles Caston Sr.

At the board’s next meeting two weeks later, Moore said, “I’d like us to reconsider to go back from appointed to elected.” Underwood objected, saying, “The statute does not allow you to go from appointed to elected, only from elected to appointed.”

Moak said the board could vote to revisit business from a prior meeting, by simple majority. If they did that, the board could then vote to reconsider. A two-thirds majority would be needed to revisit business from a prior meeting, meaning five of the seven board members present would have to vote in favor. Only four did so, the four who had voted against the original vote or who chose to abstain.

In the most recent meeting, Moore followed Moak’s suggestion to get an AG opinion by making a motion to amend the ordinance.

“I make a motion to amend the ordinance to go back to elected chief, subject to AG approval,” he said.

Caston seconded the motion.

“The statute says the city can change from elected to appointed,” Underwood said. “It does not say the reverse.”

The vote was cast — 4-3 in favor of returning to an elected chief, pending approval from the AG’s office. Echoing the way they had voted previously, Underwood, Spiller and Henning voted against the move; Grice, Moore, Caston and Magee voted in favor.