July 13, 2013 6:45:14 PM
Carl Smith - email@example.com
Sturgis Mayor Walter Turner said he is hopeful the city will name a new police chief by the end of the month and then begin hiring officers after recent board action and subsequent resignations depleted the town's law enforcement agency.
After the town's new board of aldermen declined to reappoint Police Chief Will Hutchinson earlier this month, its entire part-time, three-person police department separately tendered their own resignations. Currently, Sturgis is in a working agreement with the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department for services, but state law requires the city to have a head law enforcement agent.
Aldermen discussed the issue with residents in a special session this week but took no action. Turner said city leaders will continue to meet with its residents and develop a plan to resolve the situation.
The board has not elaborated on its reasoning to terminate Hutchinson's employment, but Turner said the three police officers' employment was secure before they resigned.
A veto is not expected on the personnel matter. Future city meetings will be held to address the situation, Turner said, but are not yet scheduled.
The city could formally contract with OCSD for law enforcement services, but Turner said aldermen are expected to name a new police chief and then hire part-time officers or possibly a full-time policeman. The police chief position should be filled first by August, he said, and then the new department head is expected to help with future personnel matters.
Hutchinson's part-time salary at the time of his departure was set at $13.50 per hour, Turner said, after the city previously approved raises for his position. The exact pay scale for the new chief will be determined by the board.
"We've got about five or six people who have expressed interest in the job since this all started. I'm sure adjoining police and sheriff's departments' personnel are aware (of the opening), but we should have notices out soon for the job," he said. "My recommendation is to hire a chief so we can let him get on board for a few weeks and get to know the town. Then we should turn our attention to interviews for police officers."
Oktibbeha County Sheriff Steve Gladney said patrols through the town have increased since he was contacted by Turner. OCSD is not expected to pursue grant or emergency funding for increased overtime pay, he said, since the situation should be resolved in a timely manner.
"We're providing as much assistance as we can. We can't keep someone there around the clock, but we stay down there as much as we can," Gladney said. "We've always had a good working relationship with the town and its residents. We'll back them up whenever they need just like they've done for my deputies."
"In our (Thursday) meeting, someone said we are left with zero protection, and that just isn't true. When you call 911, you'll get the closest officer, whether that is a county deputy, highway patrolman or the National Guard," Turner added. "After that meeting, I noticed a deputy's cruiser was parked outside the building. Deputies are already showing us they're here to help."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch