Mount Carmel BMA upholds firing of former interim police chief

Jeff Bobo • Jan 3, 2019 at 7:30 PM

MOUNT CARMEL — Following a brief appeal hearing last week, Mount Carmel leaders upheld the firing of longtime police officer George Copas, and then took the first step toward eliminating future employee appeals.

Copas, who served on the MCPD for two decades, including a stint last year as interim chief, was fired on Oct. 19 after being accused of improper possession of town property.

Among the town property Copas allegedly had in his possession was the "Beer Goggle" golf cart used to teach youths the dangers of drunk driving, as well as a box of badges, boxes of ammunition, multiple radios, and firearms that were town property not issued to Copas.

City Manager Mike Housewright said the value of the property was in excess of $6,000, not including the golf cart which was valued at between $7,000 and $8,000. All of the property was subsequently turned in by Copas.

Although he requested a hearing to appeal his termination, Copas didn't appear at the Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting last Thursday, Dec. 27, when the hearing was scheduled.

Instead, Copas' attorney Brett Cole briefly addressed the board, stating that Copas didn't wish to make a statement.

City Attorney John Pevy told the board he'd prepared a wealth of evidence that would justify termination, and he had three witnesses prepared to testify.

"Mr. Copas has presented literally no case as to why the termination should be overturned, and has actually not even graced us with his presence," Pevy said. "I don't see that as a compelling reason to change the town's termination decision."

Pevy noted that there were numerous discrepancies between the items of town property Copas admitted to possessing in a signed affidavit, and items that Copas later returned.

"If that was the only reason for the termination I believe that would be justified," Pevy said. "Falsifying a document to your superior about the town property in your possession would be enough."

Pevy said there would also be evidence presented about abuse of the sick leave and vacation policy, as well as other issues.

The BMA voted 6-0 in favor of upholding Copas's termination.

No more employee appeals

Also on Dec. 27, the BMA approved the first of two required readings of an ordinance eliminating the town's personnel policy.

Next month the BMA will be asked to approve the second and final reading of that ordinance, as well as a resolution establishing the amended personnel policy.

The new personnel policy is minus the chapter titled "Employee Complaints and Grievances" which allowed employees to appeal terminations and disciplinary actions to the BMA.

Approving the personnel policy as a resolution next month, instead of an ordinance, gives the BMA the ability to make future changes to the policy with a single vote, as opposed to the two required votes when amending an ordinance.

Mount Carmel's policy allowing employee appeals has been debated for the past year.

Pevy has urged the city to eliminate the appeal policy, which he said gives employees rights not allowed by Tennessee's "Right to Work" at-will employee statutes, and increases the city's legal liability. 

MCPD video camera bids

The BMA tabled consideration of a lone bid of $19,457 for six patrol car video cameras.

Currently the MCPD has three patrol car in-car cameras that work.

Alderman Jim Gilliam asked that an estimate be obtained for repairing the broken cameras, as well as an estimate for the cost of 10 police officer body cams.

The MCPD currently has nine officers, including six full time and three part time.

Planning Commission appointment

Alderman Carl Wolfe was initially listed on the agenda to be appointed as the BMA representative to the Planning Commission, but Wolfe declined the appointment.

Vice Mayor Jennifer Williams agreed to accept the appointment and was approved unanimously.

Mayor Chris Jones also asked the board members to express which committees or boards they're interested in serving on as he prepares to make his new post-election appointments.

Hammond Avenue improvements

The BMA approved a contract with TDOT for $60,000 worth of state - funded improvements to Hammond Avenue between Main Street and Ellis Lane.

Among the improvements will be striping, signs and other safety improvements such as shoulder and center line rumble strips.

New City Recorder/Treasurer

With the retirement last month of longtime City Recorder Marian Sandidge, City Manager Mike Housewright was appointed city recorder/treasurer in addition to city manager.