Can the Altha Town Council legally eliminate the town’s police department? That is the question Mayor Wes Johnston is asking.
As reported in last week’s issue of The County Record, the Altha Town Council voted 3-2 at their Aug. 9 meeting to do away with the police department. The decision means Police Chief Jimmy Baggett will be out of a job on Aug. 31 and the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office will begin providing all law enforcement coverage for Altha.
However, at the time the vote was made, Altha attorney Matt Fuqua was not in attendance at the meeting. Mayor Johnson has since consulted him and says Fuqua’s opinion is the Council can choose not to fund the police department, but can’t eliminate it.
“The charter says the town will consist of a mayor and five council members, known as the town council, chief of police, town clerk and attorney and other officials as needed,” Johnston points out, adding, “The motion was to disband so, in my opinion, that motion was illegal.”
Making the motion to end the police department was Councilman Derek Creamer who will reportedly be off the Council at the end of the month (see related election story in this issue). Creamer stated in February he was concerned about Baggett working another full time job while serving as police chief. “You're gone during the day, have to sleep at night...what’s your hours?” Creamer asked Baggett.
At the time, Creamer suggested allowing the Sheriff’s Office to take over all law enforcement coverage for Altha, but didn’t have the votes. However, he got the majority Aug. 9 when Joe Amoson seconded his motion and Tammy Gable voted in favor of elimating the police department. Rick Watson and Lee Alday opposed the motion.
Major Johnston says a group of citizens will hold a support rally for Baggett Saturday at the Altha Community Center.
“A lot of citizens are more than a little upset,” he remarks. “We will have very little coverage if we do away with our police department and, as mayor, that concerns me.”
A special meeting was held Tuesday night and the Council agreed to keep the police department in place for the time being, but revisit the charter to make some changes. Stay tuned...