March 8, 2012 10:47:59 AM
CALEDONIA -- Tensions were high at Tuesday night's Caledonia Board of Aldermen meeting, with Mayor George Gerhart and Town Marshal Ben Kilgore swapping frequent verbal jabs over departmental policies and the abrupt departures of two longtime deputy marshals.
Deputy Marshal Larry Swearingen resigned Feb. 29, and another quit without giving notice, Kilgore told the aldermen and an audience of about 30. After the meeting, Kilgore confirmed the resignations of Swearingen and former Deputy Marshal Steve Hatcher. Both were Caledonia deputy marshals for more than a decade.
The board unanimously voted to hire retired Columbus Police Lt. John Pevey and retired Lowndes County Sheriff's Office auxiliary officer Ben Gill to replace Swearingen and Hatcher. They will start work at $12 per hour and are subject to a 90-day probation. Current Deputy Marshals Carl Griffin and Lance Luckey, who also make $12 an hour, will receive a 50-cent pay increase the next time raises are given.
Kilgore attributed Swearingen's and Hatcher's departures to dissatisfaction with department rules and regulations, noting their other jobs, as deputies for the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, interfered with their obligations to Caledonia and they "didn't want to cooperate and work the hours we wanted them to."
Swearingen recently took on training duties with the sheriff's office, and Kilgore said he was showing up an hour to two hours late for his shifts in Caledonia because of out-of-town training sessions for the LCSO.
"The man has got a responsibility to be up here," Kilgore said, noting he wrote a memo notifying Swearingen he planned to inactivate his status as a deputy marshal, but he insinuated Gerhart informed Swearingen of Kilgore's plans before he could do so.
And Swearingen abruptly resigned in the middle of his shift.
Gerhart read a portion of Swearingen's resignation letter to the crowd, but Kilgore pressured him to read the remainder of the letter, which criticized the department and the current leadership.
"I know what is required to run a department in a proficient, professional manner, due to the fact that I do it on a daily basis with my full-time job," Swearingen wrote, in his resignation letter. "The way the current leadership is headed is a way I cannot and will not go down. Due to the fact that I have lost all respect for the department head, I no longer wish to be affiliated with the Caledonia Marshals Department."
Kilgore also confronted Gerhart on rumors he was to be suspended or terminated Tuesday night.
But Gerhart denied the rumors and said they were spread by "a liar."
"I don't pay no attention to rumors in this town," Gerhart added.
The issue died relatively quickly after that, with the board approving the purchase of two police radios, at a cost of $1,374, for the new deputy marshals.
Gerhart also tangled with Water Supervisor Benny Coleman, accusing the water department of illegally crossing a property without an easement and causing damages of more than $10,000.
Property owner Pam Robertson said she thought the aldermen would get a second bid on repair estimates and fix the damage, which occurred in July.
The board has received one estimate -- of $10,557 -- for repairs, which Gerhart said should be funded from the water department's funds. Alderwoman Brenda Willis questioned why the town couldn't make the repairs, saving money.
"After the way I was treated, like I was stupid, I really don't want Benny out there," Robertson said.
The board agreed to seek a second bid and quickly begin repairs.
"So we're leaving it exactly like we did at the last meeting," Robertson said.
In other news, the board also took the following actions:
n Granted Gerhart permission to transfer $50,000 from the general fund to an interest-bearing certificate of deposit as part of the town's continuing efforts to save money to construct a municipal complex;
n Agreed to pay a $175 per person registration fee and reimburse expenses for Coleman and water technician Trey Robertson to attend a conference March 26-29;
n Appointed Mike Dalton and Tim Howell to the Park Advisory Board.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
1. Ex-office manager arrested for embezzlement COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY