Camp Hill mayor & police officers clash amid ongoing issues
TALLAPOOSA CO., AL (WSFA) - Tensions continue to simmer in one Tallapoosa County town, leading to a shakeup in the police department.
Camp Hill's chief has been demoted and a lieutenant fired.
On Thursday night, Mayor Ezell Woodyard-Smith addressed new officer hires in the midst of ongoing turmoil with members of the department.
Chief Johnny Potts is now a sergeant and Lt. Derrick Coley was terminated due to continuous insubordination and lack of respect for authority, according to the mayor.
She has hired an interim police chief, Danny Williams, who starts Friday and another policeman who starts Saturday. That will put the department at five officers.
"I was elected by the people to protect and serve and that's my main goal here and that's all I've done since I've been here," she said. "I have no hidden agenda. It takes time. It didn't get like this overnight and I can't fix it overnight. I'll be here every day working all day trying to find solutions to problems."
When Mayor Smith campaigned for the job, she pushed for "unity in the community" and in the town's government and that's what she's been striving for since she took office in November. But she says over the past few months it's been nothing but "chaos" ever since Potts returned from medical leave. He was injured in an incident during a traffic stop.
The mayor says she has gone to chief and tried to come to a truce and apologized, but he was not receptive.
"He refuses to accept me as the mayor," she said. "I've done everything I can to reason with him. I want to see the department move forward and get to work."
Smith says she told the members of the police department that they could not have any overtime unless it was approved by her since the town does not have the money to pay for it, but officers continue to submit unapproved overtime hours.
She added that some officers have been using the town's police cars for their own personal gain to work security jobs on the side, which is not allowed.
Police policies and procedures were discussed at Thursday night's meeting.
Potts says the mayor has made her decisions based on personal reasons and left city council members out of the loop.
Smith says she couldn't wait until another city council meeting rolled around to fill the officer positions due to public safety concerns.
"I came into office and it's a part-time position but I work every day. Most of the time, mostly all day trying to right some of the, I won't say wrongs, but some of the things that are not working as they should be by law. I've been catching it ever since, but I'm going to hold in here and I'm going to do my job," she said.
She acknowledged that some residents have pointed out increases in their water bills.
"That was just something we had to do. I can't remember the last time that the water was raised," she added. "I'm trying my best to make some improvements in this town that people can see. Some of the ones that I'm making now they don't see and things are being distorted. But I'm here working."
The Tallapoosa County Sheriff's Department is assisting with police coverage in Camp Hill as the town works to bring their new officers on board.
Betty Carter, a Camp Hill resident, voiced her opinion after the meeting, which was packed with concerned citizens.
"When you have a boss and you don't follow directions, then there's some discipline behind that," she said. "A lot of people don't want to take directions from a woman and she's the top. The buck stops with her."
"I hope that everything can calm down, the people that's qualified to do the job and assigned to the job do their jobs and we can have a peaceful town to live in," she added.
Sgt. Potts and former Lt. Coley also spoke to members of the media after the meeting.
"She didn't cover any issues in the meeting because she's trying to control the meeting because she doesn't want everybody to know what's going on out here, what's going on with these officers and the town and it's not right," Potts said. "All this stuff is all personal feelings. It's nothing to do with how to run a town or town business. It's all personal feelings."
Potts denies any accusations of insubordination. He provided a copy of a letter from the mayor regarding his demotion stating his "service as chief is no longer needed" and giving him the option to accept the position of sergeant.
A special called meeting will be held Monday night by the city council to discuss all of the police department personnel changes.
"The council are good people. Some of them are new They try to do the right thing. I don't know if they'll bring me back. That's up to them," Potts said. "She took action against me because of the way I do things. She feels as though I don't do my job correctly but I do. My council has never gotten a complaint on me or Lt. Coley."
Potts and Coley have 10 days to file for a due process hearing with the town, which they both indicated they intend to do. Potts said constant harassment and interference from the mayor has prevented the department from doing important work.
"We have several cases we need to be working right now. We can't do it because she wants copies of reports and stuff like that and I'm not allowed to give that information to her. I'm trying to do the best job I can for these people out here in the town of Camp Hill. I want to do the job they pay me to do but I can't do that with the mayor always wanting to have a meeting with me and calling me five or six times a day,' he added.
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