October 12, 2016
Yazoo City’s police chief learned Tuesday of his three-day suspension without pay from the editor of a local newspaper instead of city officials, and it appears the terms of the suspension could go against state code law.
Police Chief Jeff Curtis was suspended when the mayor and board of aldermen voted 3-2 to suspend him without pay and require him to attend a conflict resolution class, according to the Yazoo Herald‘s Jamie Patterson. Curtis learned of the suspension when Patterson contacted him Tuesday morning after the Monday night meeting.
“I received no letters, no legal documents, no written formality,” he is quoted as saying in the article.
Curtis told Patterson he believed the suspension was because he was asked by Ward 3 Alderman The Rev. Gregory Robertson for information that he didn’t feel comfortable releasing. Alderman Aubry Brent Jr. agreed that was the reasoning, and said the grounds of the suspension were “insubordination to an alderman.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ron Johnson also confirmed to The Clarion-Ledger that insubordination to an alderman was the reason given for the suspension.
“That’s the base of it right there,” he said.
He would not elaborate beyond that, saying it was an executive session matter. When asked if it were a city ordinance, Johnson said, “Probably so, contact the city hall, they can pull it up for you.”
If that were actually the terms of the suspension, it appears it would conflict with Mississippi Code 21-3-15, which states, “No member of the board of aldermen shall give orders to any employee or subordinate of a municipality other than the alderman’s personal staff.”
When read the wording in the state code, Johnson said, “Call the what-you-call-it, that was not an order, so don’t y’all get it twisted.”
“Insubordinate” is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as “not obeying authority, refusing to follow orders.”
City Clerk Mario Edwards would not comment on whether the city has anything on the books that defines what would entail insubordination to an alderman, saying that he could not comment on personnel matters. He said, however, the city welcomes public records requests.
Mississippi Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Hood said there’s no ethics law that addresses a situation such as this one.
Ward 2 Alderman Jack Varner called the suspension “absolutely ridiculous,” adding that the suspension was a personal issue between Robertson and Curtis, and that the mayor had sided with the alderman.
Robertson did not comment to the newspaper on the grounds of suspension, saying he wanted to speak with the city attorney first.
Johnson and Robertson said they believe the city should have informed Curtis before the newspaper did.
Mayor Diane Delaware will not be in the office until Oct. 20, according to her receptionist. Calls to Curtis, the mayor, Robertson and the city attorney have not yet been returned. Brent and Varner were not available at the numbers listed on the city website.