Greeson: Varnell council needs some new counseling

Greeson: Varnell council needs some new counseling

July 13th, 2017 by Jay Greeson in Opinion Columns

Staff photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Feb 1, 2013 - Varnell Chief of Police Lyle Grant stands outside his temporary police headquarters.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

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Spend enough time in a newsroom, and eventually you will draw the "meeting coverage" card.

It happens.

For video journalists, it may be the business grand opening — "Sir, could you raise the shovel a little higher?" — or ribbon cutting.

For the writers, it's the meeting. School boards. Commission gatherings.

Sure, there are exceptions. Budget issues. The hiring process for the superintendent.

More times than not, though, it's agenda-driven, nuts-and-bolts minutia that a community's paper of record must report on to keep citizens informed.

Important? Certainly. Exciting? Sometimes yes, many times, no.

Well, unless you are in Varnell, Ga.

Varnell is Panama City, Fla., for municipal meetings. Varnell officials are the Kardashians of local leaders.

Tuesday night, they were back at it. In the aftermath of a city councilman getting arrested by the police chief last month, the council convened earlier this week.

Sure, they did the pledge and other pomp and circumstance. They discussed topics and then did away with the police department.

Wait, what?

Yep, you read that right.

Out of the blue, the council voted 3-1 to can the city's five full-time officers, including Chief Lyle Grant, who was under suspension before Tuesday's meeting.

Most times it's difficult to get a majority to agree on dinner plans. In Varnell, they just up and pull the rug out from under the chief and his officers.

This almost feels like a bad story line from a Stephen King novella.

Who does that? And who does it without the first piece of evidence of any analysis or cost-breakdown that would show the money saved would be worth the loss of a police force?

"It's going to free up a lot of funds for this council to use for quality-of-life purposes," Councilman David Owens told this paper's Tyler Jett after Owens seconded the motion. " There will be a lot of good to come back to citizens."

Owens referenced parks and playgrounds and hiring a community center coordinator.

He also said the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office could fill the void left by the lack of a police force.

And certainly, there's not going to be "CSI: Varnell" any time soon. Cyberterrorism and international intrigue are not exactly common place, but to axe the entire police department with what seems to amount to the same amount of preparation a college fraternity boy puts in before a Friday pop quiz is mind-blowing.

It's hard to believe that Grant arresting Councilman Sheldon Fowler for disorderly conduct and simple assault for being drunk around lunch and yelling at and poking a Varnell officer in the chest is not a major part of this.

This is like a bizarro compilation of "Carter Country" and "The Andy Griffin Show" meets "Cops."

The realization of the unknowns for those in Varnell — Varnellians, Varnelliets, or just simply Varnells? — has to be overwhelming.

All in a matter of moments and whimsy on a Tuesday night in July.

All in the name of small-town politics.

Owens offered a "No comment" when Jett asked him if the council handled the situation as well as possible.

Well, here's a comment. The three folks who steamrolled this dim-witted decision should be replaced the next time their names are on a ballot.

If not sooner.

Heck, what's everyone doing next Tuesday?

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and 423-757-6343.

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