published Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

LaFayette picks new police, fire chiefs

A week after city officials decided to put separate chiefs over the fire and police departments, LaFayette, Ga., City Manager Frank Etheridge has appointed both positions from a pool of internal candidates.

Former Assistant Chief Bengie Clift -- who has been acting as interim public safety director -- was appointed police chief and Capt. Robert Busby Jr. was appointed fire chief, both with 14-plus years of experience, Etheridge said.

The vote to split the department into two and hire supervisors for both sides was unanimousl during a June 11 City Council meeting. This will allow each department to operate as a separate entity, officials said.

Clift said he is excited to take over the top police spot and agrees with the decision to split the departments.

"It's hard to wear both hats," he said. "This allows me to focus on what we need to get back to [serving] the community."

Clift was chosen from four applicants for police chief, and Busby from three. Both were chosen because of their experience within the department and because it would be a smooth transition for the employees, Etheridge said.

"This was a more stable way of handling it," he said. "I didn't want to start moving people around and reopening old issues as far as lateral moves and demotions."

The public safety department was unstable after disgruntled employees began to accuse recently fired Public Safety Director Tommy Freeman of public tirades and retaliation.

After an internal investigation, Etheridge found some of the accusations to be true and he gave Freeman an ultimatum if he wanted to continue to work at the department, documents show. But after Freeman began to question employees and attempted to demote officers, Etheridge fired him.

Clift said the last few weeks have been emotional within the department and he is looking forward to moving forward.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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