Chattanooga mayoral candidate Tim Kelly reaffirmed his support for Police Chief David Roddy on Wednesday in response to a public statement by another politician that Kelly plans to replace Roddy if elected.
District 5 City Council Candidate Dennis Clark claimed in a public livestream on Tuesday that Kelly, one of two candidates in an April 13 mayoral runoff election, intends to remove Roddy and replace him with Capt. Jerri Sutton.
"One of the things that he [Kelly] has done is, he's already announced his police chief, who is a Black female, which is Jerri Weary [now Sutton], " Clark said to his guest, activist Cameron "C-Grimey" Williams, during a discussion about police and the mayoral race. "So I hear your concerns, but I also trust Jerri, being a Black female."
In the now-deleted video, Clark then interrupted himself to say, "Did I just say something that's not public?"
Kelly denied any such plan on Wednesday, telling the Times Free Press that he has no intention of replacing Roddy.
"My position has been consistent from the very beginning. Chief Roddy has been a very forward-looking chief," Kelly said. "Back during the riots, he was embracing 8 Can't Wait, which were the policies that everybody was banging the table over for police reform. And I was very surprised to learn at the time that they had, I think, seven of the eight knocked out."
As such, Kelly says he has not done any vetting of Sutton or anyone else to take Roddy's role and has no plans to change the department's leadership.
"He's done a great job in challenging times, and there's no reason. I've given my word. I think he's the right guy," Kelly said. "We'll get to know each other better once I'm in there and we collaborate on a vision for the department based on community policing and public safety and transparency and accountability and all that. And we'll move forward."
While Kelly said he supports creating a more diverse police department, he said he told a group of clergy who endorsed him this week — and called for Roddy to be replaced by a Black chief — that he would not fire Roddy for the sole purpose of diversity.
Both Kelly and opponent Kim White said during the campaign for the March 2 general election that they did not plan to fire Roddy if elected, after other candidates and activists called for his removal around police brutality protests last year.
Clark, who supports calls to replace Roddy with a person of color, said Wednesday that he should not have made the comment.
"I misspoke from a private conversation I had," Clark said. "I didn't get that information from the [Kelly] campaign, but I thought my source was reliable."
White said Thursday that she will continue to support Roddy.
"Chief David Roddy has my full support and will continue to have my full support if elected mayor," White said in an emailed statement to the Times Free Press. "In the last week, I met with two groups of faith and community leaders of color, and I was asked if I would commit to replacing Chief Roddy and additional leadership in exchange for their support. While I respect the opportunity to build relationships across our city and will always listen to the concerns of neighbors, I will not disrupt the Chattanooga Police Department's progress by the unwarranted replacement of Chief Roddy and others."
White, who has been endorsed by the local chapters of the Fraternal Order of Police and International Brotherhood of Police Officers, says she fears undue leadership changes would further divide residents.
"I strongly believe that any change in leadership or subsequent reduction in funding, training, hiring, resources or overall support of our Chattanooga Police Department will result in a deeper divide in the community," she said. "Furthermore, I deeply respect Chief Roddy's integrity, transparency and commitment to diversity and inclusion within his department. To better serve our neighbors and community, as well as sustain a sense of faith and goodwill between our department and community, including our Black residents and other minority groups, I will remain a steadfast supporter of Chief Roddy and the brave men and women of the Chattanooga Police Department."
Roddy and Sutton declined to comment. A spokesperson for the department said Wednesday that the chief will work with the next mayor but intends to stay out of political discussions surrounding the election.