Meetings with the Chattanooga Fraternal Order of Police have caused friction between 2021 mayoral candidates, raising questions about bias toward candidates and the fate of Police Chief David Roddy.
Mayoral hopefuls Tim Kelly, a local businessman, and Kim White, former president of River City Co., separately initiated meetings with the police officers organization to discuss the future of the police department.
"I appreciated the opportunity to recently meet with the FOP and thought we had a very productive conversation," White wrote in an emailed statement about a recent meeting she initiated with the police organization. "In that meeting I told the group that I support Chief Roddy and look forward to working with him and his leadership team to give them the resources and support needed in order for them to be as successful as possible."
Similarly, Kelly says he reached out to the group to share his message.
"David Roddy has served as the Chief of the Chattanooga Police Department in what can only be described as a very difficult time in our city's history. His dedication and commitment are greatly appreciated and I hope to work with him if I am fortunate enough to be elected," Kelly wrote in an email. "There is certainly work to be done in this area of city government, but I'm confident Chief Roddy is the right person to continue to lead the effort."
Kelly said the group "indicated they were open to any candidate who wanted to speak with them, but few had thus far."
Another candidate, Andrew McLaren, who was not involved in the conversations, feels slighted by the police organization after previously trying to contact the group for a similar conversation.
"It definitely looks bad that the two candidates they get to talk to them happen to be the two with the most money and kind of the most power in the city, with all the businesses connections," said McLaren, who said he offered to meet with the Chattanooga Fraternal Order of Police months ago.
McLaren, who has publicly said he would not keep Roddy on as chief if elected, thinks his views also played into his exclusion.
"I would fire him and I would tell him to his face. I think he's a very nice guy. I think he's a great dad. I think he is a great human being, but he has to step down," McLaren said, adding that he would like to replace Roddy with Assistant Chief Glenn Scruggs. "I don't want to see his livelihood threatened. I'm sure that he could find a job and we could work something out, but I feel that there's been too many scandals in this department."
"Somebody's got to take accountability for that and what I learned in the Marines is that your officers or your troops are a direct reflection of you," he said, blaming Roddy, in part, for officer-involved "scandals" over recent years.
Monty Bruell, another candidate who has not had contact with the police group, says there is a bias toward White and Kelly, the more affluent candidates, but that isn't inherently at play here.
"Clearly the Kelly campaign and the White campaign will be spending a lot of money on advertising," he said, noting a perceived bias toward them in some media coverage. " And I think there has been some preference shown toward them already."
But Bruell, as a candidate with different opinions of Chief Roddy than McLaren, doesn't see these meetings as the same kind of affront.
"If I'm the next mayor of Chattanooga, I do not plan to ask Chief Roddy to resign from his position. However, I do plan to make sweeping changes to the police department to the way that we bring public safety to the people of Chattanooga, and Chief Roddy will then have to decide whether my vision for the police department is one that he can buy into," Bruell said Saturday. "And I would expect him to act with integrity and to make a decision as to whether that he can head the kind of police department that a Mayor Bruell would envision."
Roddy was unavailable for comment Friday. Attempts to reach FOP leadership were unsuccessful.
As of Saturday, Bruell, Councilman Russell Gilbert and Dr. Elenora Woods are the only candidates to formally qualify for election according to the Hamilton County Election Commission. Woods and Gilbert were not available for comment.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.