Brown returning as Franklinton chief of police, starting Monday

Published 3:18 pm Friday, February 12, 2021

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During Tuesday’s meeting of the Franklinton Board of Aldermen, two personnel-related decisions originally made in January were reversed.

At the Jan. 12 meeting, newly elected Franklinton Mayor Greg Route replaced Police Chief Justin Brown with Olander Smith, and Code Enforcement Officer Danny Knight with Wilbur Magee.

At the time, Route stated that he believed he had the authority to make such personnel moves without the board’s approval. Board members Seth Descant, Darwin Sharp and Heath Spears expressed concerns that the mayor did not have such authority.

On Friday, Feb. 5, the State Attorney General’s Office released an opinion on the matter.

In the opinion, Assistant Attorney General Lauryn Sudduth wrote that the Town of Franklinton’s charter was “clear that both the mayor and aldermen are empowered to appoint the officers they deem necessary for the management of the town.”

Sudduth further wrote, “Thus, it is our opinion that the mayor does not have the authority to appoint or remove the municipal clerk, the chief of police, the town attorney, the code enforcement officer, or the court magistrate without the approval of the board of aldermen.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Route and the board went into executive session for approximately one hour, before returning to regular session. Shortly after returning to regular session, the board voted 3-2 to accept the Attorney General’s Office’s opinion. Descant, Sharp and Spears voted yes, and T.J. Butler and Patrice Crain voted no.

Later, the board unanimously voted to re-instate Brown as police chief beginning Monday, Feb. 15. At the same time, the board also voted that the town government would begin advertising for applications for the police chief position and all applicants would go before the new Human Resource Committee. Composed of board members Descant and Crain, this committee will then make a recommendation to Route for the police chief position.

Route will then present the recommendation to the board, whose members will vote upon it. Brown will be required to submit his application, just like any other candidate. Until that time, Brown will resume serving as police chief.

The board also unanimously voted to bring Knight back to his original position, and begin advertising applications for that position in the same way as the police chief.

The board unanimously voted to approve Route’s other choices for administrative staff personnel, including Ellen Wascom as municipal clerk, James Knight as town attorney and Dan Foil as court magistrate.

During board comments, board member Darwin Sharp expressed his displeasure at the recent meetings.

“I’ve been in public office for 37 years and never, ever have I seen a mess like this going on,” he said. “Olander (Smith)’s family has been hurt by what’s happened. Justin Brown’s family has been hurt by what’s happened. And this town doesn’t look like it’s going to get any dadgum better.”

Route said that every decision he has made as mayor so far has been only to improve the town of Franklinton.

“I put this town first,” he said. “I’m trying to move this town forward. And I’m going to do that with the help of you guys (the board).”

Editor’s Note: Special thanks is expressed to David C. Miller of Mt. Hermon News, whose video recordings of Tuesday’s meeting and the Jan. 12 meeting were used in this reporting.