Fort Payne seeks to improve police relations

The Fort Payne City Council is preparing to interview applicants to become the city's next chief of police. 

The search for Fort Payne’s next police chief is ongoing as the city works toward improving relations with local law enforcement and morale within the department.

When the city council met on Dec. 1, it passed resolution 2020-48, authorizing the termination of the lease at the shooting range with the Fraternal Order of Police on Feb. 20.

Local police officers will still have access to use the facility. Council member John Smith, who has connections to local law enforcement, said the city may create its own range if needed to keep police properly trained.

Several council members expressed support local police officers. Council President Walter Watson said it has felt like the two have been “at odds” but the city wants to improve relations with police officials.

Officers say it has been a difficult year to work in law enforcement as national controversies have shaped public opinion. City leaders have stressed how critical it is to choose a new chief who will be the right fit for Fort Payne, which has largely not seen the conflict emerging from other communities.

For the second straight meeting, several police officers attended the city council meeting. The council plans to conduct interviews this week before hiring the city’s next police chief. A panel of law enforcement experts is expected to give its input into the qualifications of the applicants, but the final decision will be made by the city council, possibly at its Dec. 12th meeting.

The council is also now going through the budget process and determining what various departments need. They will make decisions on how to fairly allocate available resources. Watson said this has been aided by a spreadsheet created by Council member Phillip Smith. Council members are now working on committees to communicate directly with department heads and report back to the full council.

In other business, the council:

• Approved resolution 2020-12, repealing ordinance 2020-02, which consolidated voting places to the Wills Valley Recreation Center and VFW Hall during the 2020 municipal elections to limit potential spread of COVID-19 and adjust for an anticipated lack of available poll workers, which was attributed to many historically being older and thus belonging to a demographic suspected of being more vulnerable to complications from the coronavirus. The change approved Tuesday reverts polling places back to where they were previously so voters will be able to vote in their traditional polls in the next municipal election.

Council members said they heard complaints, particularly from senior citizens who opted against voting this year due to the added distance they would be required to travel. They had the option of voting absentee.

Mayor Brian Baine said the intention from the start was to temporarily change the polling places for this one election and the council never planned to permanently limit voting to those two locations.

• Delayed a vote to appoint members to the board of the DeKalb-Cherokee Gas District until Council member Lynn Brewer can attend. They interviewed the 28 applicants.

• Suspended their own rules and approved on first reading ordinance 2020-11 to change the start time for council meetings from 1 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. on each first Tuesday of the month. Meetings are held on the second floor of City Hall. The council also holds work sessions.

• Approved an extension until December 2022 for Valley Joist to fulfill its jobs creation commitment, citing the adverse effects of COVID-19 on their ability to expand.

• Approved a 9.98 acre subdivision on Hixon Road NW for Chris and Luanne Bowman to develop an apartment complex for senior living. The Planning Commission approved the subdivision.

• Approved a streetlight request for Carolyn Hartline at 503 Margaret Thacker Lane.

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