Just as it was back in 2016, the Town of Mason is without a police department.
On Monday night, the city’s elected officials failed to accept the mayor’s appointment of Rick Jewell as its chief and also fired the department’s only full-time officer, Marvin Sutton for leaving the town unprotected when he was supposed to be working.
“We need to have Mason Police Department closed until we can revamp it and do it right,” alderwoman Virginia Rivers said during the virtual meeting.
The move places the burden of police protection on the Tipton County Sheriff’s Office, which has been supplementing Mason’s Police Department for years.
It’s not the first time, though.
A chaotic history
Four years ago – to the week – then-mayor Gwendolyn Kilpatrick and the board fired the chief, four full-time officers and 10 part-time officers due to irregularities and because most officers were not certified or had no record with the state and were not receiving proper training.
She later hired D. Terry Yarbrough to rebuild the department. He was the town’s sixth police chief in the year and a half after longtime chief James Paris was terminated for the third time. (The first, incidentally, was 10 years ago this week.).
In February 2019, after a change in the town’s administration, Yarbrough called the town’s board of mayor and aldermen dysfunctional and resigned a position he’d held for several years.
Three chiefs since June 1
Vatisha Barken then became the interim chief and both the first woman and first Black woman to be a police chief in Mason and Tipton County.
Barken gave a similar exit last month, calling the board members ignorant and airing grievances with lack of training and equipment in a letter to sent The Leader and the TCSO.
She was also employed with Gallaway’s police department and reportedly patrolled Mason in a Gallaway patrol car.
Though she resigned on June 1, the board terminated her at a meeting two weeks later.
Donald Bond was then appointed interim chief, however Bond was already searching for a new job.
Mayor Emmitt Gooden was aware of this, he said during Monday’s meeting, and used the town’s website to advertise the police chief position.
Gooden decided to hire Jewell, who is a former Millington police chief, without disclosing it or discussing it with the board.
Mason’s charter provides for the mayor to hire and fire at-will, however board members believed it to be disrespectful to hire a new chief, conduct background checks, swear him in and allow him to go to work without having even introduced him to them.
Gooden also appointed Barken chief in 2019, and had her sworn in, without discussing it with the board.
“It’s just embarrassing to not know who’s working for you as an alderman,” said alderwoman Carolyn Catron. “It’s just not right.”
“I don’t have no problems with this gentleman,” said vice mayor Eddie Noeman, “it’s just how you’re doing it. We have to know what’s going on. Like we told you before, you’re doing this over and over. We need a good chief in this town because of all of this crime … he’s overqualified, I’m sure, I’m just not happy about the process.”
Alderwoman Dr. Keneko Claybon said she was also unhappy with the process.
“Did we do a widespread search? How did the process get done so quickly?”
She also expressed what she calls trepidation in rushing to fill positions.
“The last appointment egregiously misused the time allotted. I don’t want us to go back through that again.”
Gooden said Bond notified him of his impending departure and they wanted to move urgently so there would be no lapse in coverage.
“The job was posted for awhile,” he said.
The job announcement is still listed on the town’s website. Mason accepted applications from June 12 to July 3.
Catron asked, moving forward, if the board could meet new employees before they begin working with the public.
“I have no problem with that moving forward,” Gooden said.
Jewell was on the call and had introduced himself to the board members prior to the discussion.
Mason has a series of special called meetings – notices are posted on their website and in city hall, which is currently closed to the public – in which Jewell’s appointment is expected to be discussed again.
If hired, Jewell will be the third police chief since June 1 and the ninth chief since 2015.
In the meantime, TCSO will continue covering Mason.