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Mount Carmel mayor fires police chief before losing his powers

Jeff Bobo • Updated Dec 30, 2015 at 10:03 AM

 

MOUNT CARMEL — Without explanation or known reason, Mount Carmel Mayor Larry Frost told longtime Police Chief Jeff Jackson Monday morning that his services were no longer needed.

Tuesday evening, a majority of the Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen told Mayor Frost, in essence, that his services were no longer needed as well.

The BMA voted 4-3 in favor of eliminating  Frost’s powers to hire and fire city employees.

Aldermen Chris Jones, Wanda Davidson, Eugene Christian and Margaret Christian cast the “yes” votes.

The board had taken an identical vote last week in what was supposed to be the first of two required ordinance readings.

But City Attorney John Pevy advised the board Tuesday to negate last week’s vote because of some technical flaws in the action identified by legal counsel with the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service.

Instead, the BMA’s official first reading of the ordinance was approved at Tuesday’s special called meeting.

Presumably the ordinance will be on the agenda along with a public hearing for the BMA’s consideration at the Jan. 26 meeting.

Currently Mount Carmel has a “strong mayor” style of government in which the mayor has the power to hire, fire, discipline, demote and promote city employees.

If the ordinance is approved, that power would be transferred to the department heads, who would then be required to answer to the full BMA at its monthly meetings.

Jackson, who has been a member of the Mount Carmel Police Department since 1981 and chief since 1999, attended Tuesday’s special called BMA meeting. He was swarmed by supporters when the meeting was adjourned.

Jackson told the Times-New he was given no reason when Frost fired him first thing Monday morning.

“I just was told that I was being let go, that my services were no longer needed,” Jackson said.

Jackson didn’t say what his next step will be, although he admitted that retirement is an option. Jackson also has the right to appeal his firing to the full BMA, which could overturn his firing with a majority vote.

Frost didn’t offer an explanation for firing Jackson at Tuesday’s BMA meeting, and quickly exited the room after the meeting was adjourned.

Alderman Chris Jones told the Times-News after Tuesday’s meeting he would like to see Jackson rehired by the BMA next month, assuming the vote to remove Frost’s powers is approved.

“To terminate this police chief is uncalled for,” Jones said. “His reasons are unknown. The only statement was, ‘Your services are no longer needed,’ which to me is not enough grounds to fire a man who served this city for over 30 years.”

Jones added, “It’s not a good enough reason to throw someone’s career down the tube just because you don’t like him. I would like to see Jeff Jackson still our police chief. He’s got the most experience to keep this city out of a lot of problems, and his record is impeccable.”

Church Hill businessman Ralph Lambert told the Times-News Tuesday that Mayor Frost is his friend and has been over to his house many times. According to Lambert, when Frost was campaigning for mayor in 2012, he told him and his wife that his first act if elected mayor would be to fire Jackson.

Frost has denied saying that, but he did demote Jackson to patrolman about a month after being elected in November of 2012.

Frost reinstated Jackson as chief about a year later when his replacement, Mike Campbell, left the MCPD to work for the Kingsport Police Department.

There has been speculation that Frost’s actions are a result of Jackson’s issuing warning citations against work trucks from Frost’s construction business for burned out tail lights and other safety infractions.

Jackson has also suspended MCPD Officer David Dean on multiple occasions for padding his time card, lying to superiors, and failure to perform his duty.

Dean is the son of Mayor Frost’s political ally, former Mayor Jimmy Dean, and was hired to the police department shortly after Frost was elected.

MCPD Assistant Chief Phillip Robinette has been named police chief.

Robinette, a former Bean Station Police Department chief and Rogersville detective, was also hired by Frost shortly after he was elected.

Robinette had been David Dean’s boss at the Bean Station Police Department before Dean was fired by that city’s mayor in 2012. Robinette subsequently resigned following a scandal involving his civilian son’s arrest with a BSPD badge, rifle and SWAT gear.

Robinette is currently on medical leave while recovering from heart surgery. Sgt. Ken Lunsford Sr. is acting Mount Carmel police chief.

In other business Tuesday, the BMA voted 4-3 to dissolve the municipal Senior Center and place the original independent Senior Center back in City Hall.

Pevy noted, however there are still some legal questions that must be answered before the BMA’s Senior Center vote can be enacted.              

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