Council says no to police chief contract

Council says no to police chief contract

March 31st, 2010 by Cliff Hightower in News

Mayor Ron Littlefield said Tuesday night he immediately would install police Deputy Chief Mark Rawlston as interim chief after the City Council rejected a contract for outgoing Chief Freeman Cooper.

"I'm disappointed," Mr. Littlefield said moments after the council voted 6-2 against offering a contract to Chief Cooper. "Obviously, he (Chief Cooper) will now be retiring."

Staff photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press Mayor Ron Littlefield waits for the Chattanooga City Council to vote on renewing Chief Freeman Cooper's contract for the Chattanooga Police Department.

Staff photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press...

Councilman Manny Rico and Councilwoman Sally Robinson were the only council members to vote for approval of a three-year contract with Chief Cooper at a salary of $116,822 a year. Councilwoman Carol Berz abstained, saying she wanted a one-year contract.

The contract has been subject to controversy over the last week since Mr. Littlefield gave his proposal to the City Council. Mr. Littlefield proposed giving a three-year contract to Chief Cooper, who will retire today, at his current salary.

Chief Cooper also qualifies for about $80,000 a year in pension, along with a one-time lump sum retirement benefit of $240,000 called a deferred retirement option plan, or DROP.

Council members expressed mixed reactions Tuesday night about why they were voting as they did. But most said they felt it was because of a lack of advancement for other officers on the Chattanooga police force.

"The DROP program was set up to encourage retirement," said Councilwoman Pam Ladd, just moments before the vote. "By doing the contract, we're circumventing the process."

Mr. Littlefield immediately walked out of the City Council meeting room after the vote. He had said last week that if the council did not vote for Chief Cooper's contract he would begin negotiating with Sheriff Jim Hammond about possibly taking control of the department.

Mr. Littlefield said he would install Deputy Chief Rawlston as the interim chief, and he said there was "no timetable" on when talks with the sheriff and on consolidation of the city and county law enforcement departments would begin.

"This might accelerate the process," Mr. Littlefield said.

Council Chairman Jack Benson, who predicted the day before that the mayor did not have the votes, said after the meeting even he was shocked at how "one-sided" the vote was for not giving Chief Cooper the contract.

"It wasn't a marginal decision," he said. "It was a clear-cut decision by this council to show it was an unwise move."

The council first discussed giving Chief Cooper a one-year, renewable contract and voted on the measure. The council voted 5-4 against that proposition. Councilmen Jack Benson, Russell Gilbert, Peter Murphy and Councilwomen Pam Ladd and Deborah Scott all voted against the one-year contract.

Several times, Mr. Littlefield tried to speak to the council, but he never was called upon as council members continued to debate the contract. Instead, council members voted on the measure with little input from the administration.

Mr. Littlefield said after the meeting that he would be coming to the council in coming weeks with a large package for the police department that will be included in the upcoming budget. It will include increases in officers' pay and two new police academies, he said.

"I hope the police department will come together in consolidation," he said.


For the contract:

* Manny Rico

* Sally Robinson

Against the contract:

* Jack Benson

* Russell Gilbert

* Pam Ladd

* Andraé McGary

* Peter Murphy

* Deborah Scott


* Carol Berz