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SHARPSBURG — Town commissioners fired the police chief following a lengthy closed session held during a special meeting Monday.
Commissioner Randall Collie made the motion to fire Chief John Hunt, who has been police chief since Feb. 10, 2016.
Hunt's conduct surrounding a traffic stop occurring on May 21 "demonstrated a lack of professionalism, integrity, poor judgment and involved an improper directive to his officers," Collie said.
"Subsequently, disciplinary actions taken, equipment decisions made by Chief Hunt against the officers involved in the traffic stop were viewed by the Board of Commissioners as retaliatory in direct violation of the board's prior warning against retaliation," Collie said.
Collie said the board had "a lack of confidence in Chief Hunt's abilities to carry out his professional duties as chief and to effectively lead his department."
Collie also said Hunt potentially subjected the town to "monetary liability through these intentional, wrongful acts."
Commissioner Mary Jackson seconded Collie's motion, which passed by unanimous vote. Commissioner David Pride was not present.
Mayor Robert Williams, who was also not in attendance, said by phone later Monday that he had no comment on Hunt's ouster.
The firing came at the end of a special meeting called to discuss a letter from the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, an amendment to personnel policy, a resolution establishing the powers of the mayor and the commissioners, rules of procedure and a closed session that lasted more than two hours.
Town Attorney Brian Pridgen said the majority of the PBA letter dealt with Williams' May 8 drunken driving arrest. Within an hour of the polls closing on election day and before his victory in the mayoral race was announced, Williams was charged with failure to maintain lane control; driving while impaired; two counts of resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer; possession of a concealed firearm; possession of a firearm after consuming alcohol and possession of a firearm on government property.
Williams is scheduled to appear in Nash County District Court on the charges July 3.
"There are two sides to every story," Williams said by phone Monday adding the arrest and prosecution have affected his wife and his family. "You have got to look at my point of view."
John C. Midgette, N.C. Police Benevolent Association executive director, said Williams' actions brought his organization into the picture.
"What we have found is that there have been inappropriate actions taken against our members in the performance of their duties," Midgette told the board.
Midgette said that the mayor's actions resulted in intimidation of officers and included "demeaning comments and gestures toward the police officer in front of other people."
"We have information and have reason to believe that the mayor actually followed the arresting officer and was actually in a position by his tone, body language and comments that he made is perilously close to a Class G felony intimidation of witnesses," Midgette said.
Midgette called on commissioners to investigate the mayor's actions and suggested the State Bureau of Investigation or another third party conduct the inquiry.
"When officers' jobs are at risk, when they are not allowed to do their job, we have and will file litigation to represent them because we believe that good officers need to be protected to do their job, and that litigation extends to elected officials as well," Midgette said.
Midgette added that litigation against the town or elected officials could result in officers receiving monetary damages.
"This money doesn't grow on trees. It comes from the citizens," Midgette said. "When we have to sue like this, we are suing the very people that paid for the law enforcement community to serve its citizens. If at all possible, we chose this venue to work this out with elected folks like you because if we can work this out, it saves not only a lawsuit, but much-needed tax money that you need to serve your citizens."
Pridgen presented items to the board that he said were "drafted in response to these very serious allegations that are designed to protect your employees and to hopefully shield the town, its elected officials, the commissioners and the mayor, from future liability."
The first document commissioners approved was an amendment to the town personnel policy.
"If you hired or fired or disciplined any employee, it would be up to the board to decide that as a whole," Pridgen said. "To get to that point, you would need unanimous approval of the town administrator, the commissioner over the department and the department head to make that recommendation to bring that back to you all for final approval."
The second approved document was a resolution establishing the powers of Sharpsburg's mayor and commissioners. Among them were that the mayor and commissioners shall only act on items or issues authorized by the board and that the mayor and commissioners shall not interfere, harass or interrupt town employees in the daily functions of their work.
"Concerns regarding town functions shall be addressed directly to the town administrator and the board of commissioners," the resolution reads. "The mayor is not authorized to give directives to employees or to engage in town personnel matters without involvement of (the) board of commissioners. Further, the mayor is not authorized to hire, fire or discipline employees or direct the administrator or department to take any such action."
The board resolved that the mayor shall represent the board in all town matters and not act alone.
"These guidelines are very typical of almost any government in the state of North Carolina," Pridgen said. "They are the way that you were basically operating already. It is just a matter that everybody understands the authorities of each of you going forward."