Ferriday officials debate duties of police chief

Published 3:29 am Thursday, April 20, 2017

FERRIDAY — In the latest round of tug-of-war between Ferriday aldermen and the mayor over the town’s police chief, aldermen Wednesday approved moving to the next step on a new job description for the position.

Ferriday Alderman Glenn Henderson said after the specially called meeting the update on the job description relates to Police Chief Arthur Lewis’ three suspensions. Henderson and Alderwoman Gail Pryor are the police commissioners for the board.

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“He has been suspended unlike any chief we have had in my time,” Henderson said. “What is in the previous job description is vague. We want to make sure we have a clear understanding for the mayor and the chief.”

Lewis returned this week from his third suspension in less than a year. He was not present at the meeting, but several officers attended.

Town attorney Myisha Davis had several concerns about the ordinance in its original form, which contained 27 items for the chief to follow.

“You have to make sure the ordinance does not infringe on the powers of the mayor,” Davis said. “If the ordinance is invalid, you basically can’t enforce it.”

Davis said some of her concerns relate to the vagueness of the items, while other items may violate the Lawrason Act, which governs the duties of municipalities in Louisiana.

At Davis’ recommendation, aldermen removed two items from the job description.

One item required the chief to perform other related duties as assigned by the town council, which infringed on the mayor’s rights in the Lawrason Act, Davis said.

Another item required the chief to maintain a level of physical fitness to safely respond and assist other peace officers when necessary, which Davis said was vague because it was unclear who would make the determination of what was physically fit.

On several items, Davis recommended language changes to either make the requirements more clear or give the chief the option to delegate.

For example, one item read the chief performs the duties of a patrol officer, detective and or investigator in the absence of or in the case of a department shortage of law enforcement officers.

Davis said this wording forces the chief to serve in these roles when he may instead wish to delegate to another officer. Davis said if the ordinance read “may perform the duties…”, delegation would be possible.

During the meeting, Alderwoman Gloria Lloyd asked about hiring and firing, and Davis said hiring and firing under the Lawrason Act for an appointed police chief are ultimately up to the mayor.

Davis said the chief can only make recommendations.

Pryor said the chief of police would know law enforcement, and while Mayor Sherrie Jacobs may have read up on the subject, Jacobs does not have the direct experience.

Davis said that’s how the law works for an appointed chief. She said an elected chief would have more power to hire and fire.

Lloyd said the appointed chief has always had to make recommendations, but she said a difference exists now. Under the previous administrations of Gene Allen and Glen McGlothin, the mayors took the recommendation of the chief while Jacobs may not.

Lloyd said this could lead to an unhealthy workplace environment.

Davis was also concerned one item would bog the chief down. The item requires the chief to respond to written and verbal inquiries and complaints from citizens, staff, town council, other agencies and departments.

Pryor said if she filed a complaint, she would want a response.

Davis said the chief should have the option to delegate it, and that some items may not require a response. For example, if a resident called and had issue with the water, that’s not a Ferriday Police issue and should simply be referred to water personnel.

When asked by Davis, Jacobs said she had a concern with calling the chief the administrator of the Ferriday Police Department. Under the Lawrason Act, Jacobs said she is the administrator of Ferriday Police Department.

Henderson said to his understanding, both the mayor and the chief are administrators.

“He is still under your authority,” he said.

Jacobs said the chief should be a supervisor, just like Jerry Beatty, who is the department head for streets and sanitation.

Alderman Johnnie “Rip” Woodruff said the chief of police position should not be similar to a position like streets and sanitation, who could receive directives from the mayor to, for example, clean out a ditch.

“This is the chief law enforcement officer,” he said. “He does not need directives like that.”

One Ferriday Police officer had concerns about who protects the officers.

Pryor said officers with concerns should come to her and Henderson.

The aldermen unanimously approved introducing the ordinance. From here, the ordinance would have to be advertised in The Concordia Sentinel and a public hearing would have to be conducted.

Davis recommended Henderson, who drafted the ordinance, make the revisions and submit them to her for approval before advertising.