At Tuesday’s meeting of the board of mayor and aldermen, Jean Johnson announced a boycott is set to begin Friday if the decision to eliminate the city’s assistant police chiefs isn’t reversed.
“We’re not going to blindside you like you blindsided us,” she said. “We’re here tonight to serve you notice that starting Friday, until we see change, we will not shop anywhere in the city of Covington. Our Plan B, if no result, will be to add another day.”
Her announcement was met with applause by others in the standing-room only audience.
One-by-one nearly a dozen other people took their turns at the podium. They praised the former assistant chiefs’ character, integrity and said they brought a sense of trust between the community and the department.
Most asked the Sept. 27 decision – through which assistant chiefs Cavat Bass and Allen Wilson were reassigned to the patrol division – be reconsidered and reversed.
“I’m not trying to stand here today making you go against the power that you have,” said Farita Yarbrough. “All I’m saying is have a change of heart. If you came in and thought those two positions was unnecessary we get that, but like any job, give it 90 days because, by you being the new chief, those positions could be effective for you because you’re a new leader. I’m just letting you know … the streets (are) talking. The Covington Police Department and the City of Covington has always been a love-hate relationship … this city gonna go up in flames.”
The impassioned speeches came after a press conference Friday morning at city hall during which Gloria Sweet-Love, the president of the Tennessee NAACP, accused mayor Justin Hanson and police chief Larry Lindsey of discriminating against Bass and Wilson because of their ages and race.
Bass and Wilson – were both promoted to the position in April 2012 under then-chief Tim Glass. Both are nearing retirement and have been employed with the department longer than some of its younger officers have been alive.
Bass, who is black, was hired in 1990 and has broken many racial barriers. He became the first African-American to become lieutenant, captain and assistant chief. For the last seven years he’s been over the patrol division.
Wilson, who is white, has been employed with the department since 1987, when it was housed on the highway near Spring Street. As assistant chief he oversaw the investigative division.
Some, like former alderman John Edwards, are questioning why Lindsey, who is from Shelby County, was chosen over two assistant chiefs who’ve spent their entire careers at the Covington Police Department.
The police chief assessment scores show, of the seven applicants who were interviewed by an independent committee, Bass and Wilson scored the lowest during the interview process. Lindsey scored the highest.
Edwards suggested other possible motives for the demotions.
“The only time I’ve seen where you’d take somebody atop the totem pole and put them at the bottom is for three reasons: either disciplinary, retaliation or it’s either discrimination,” he said.
Though the opposition has been more vocal, several former Covington police officers spoke out on social media in support of the chief’s decision.
“I worked there nine years, I’ve seen multiple officers leave Covington because of the so-called assistant chief,” said Cody Gann, a former supervisor. “This was this is by far the best thing this guy could do for the City of Covington. You guys should be excited about where your city can actually go now.”
Too top heavy?
It has also been suggested the two positions were cut for budgetary reasons – they were making $53,000 each and will go to the patrolmen rate in two months – however that was not the reason given by Hanson or Lindsey.
“I felt like this was one of the changes that needed to take place – there’s no need for two assistant chiefs, that’s too top heavy,” Lindsey told The Leader in an Oct. 1 interview.
While Lindsey’s being criticized for eliminating the positions, the ball was rolling as early as Feb. 26, according to a memo obtained by The Leader.
“This department has two assistant chiefs,” said Buddy Lewis, whose last day with the department was Aug. 31. “I personally feel that this department is too small for two assistant chiefs. I am not going to eliminate any position at this time, but we must justify these two positions.”
From there, the two chiefs were given different shifts. They also reportedly changed departments.
“I have recently heard that our officers feel they are not being back by our leadership in this department. We have continued discussions about discipline issues throughout our department,” the memo continued. “I can let this type of action continue or I can make major changes.”
Lewis did not make changes before he left and Lindsey’s first day on the job on Sept. 1.
Hanson is supporting the way Lindsey has restructured the department.
“I have always thought of my administration as a team, and everything we do for our citizens is a team effort. I have the utmost trust in all Department heads within the City of Covington, including our new Chief of Police. It is well within his authority in accordance with Tennessee law to restructure and build his department as he sees fit to produce the best results for our citizens and community. I trust him to do his job, and to do it well.”
Neither Bass nor Wilson has publicly commented on the situation.
The next meeting of the board of mayor and aldermen will take place on Oct. 22.