By Caleb McCluskey
After about a 30-minute executive session with raised voices, the McComb city board took action to sue former Police Chief Damian Gatlin and the city’s Civil Service Commission over the commission's insistence that Gatlin has a right to a hearing over his termination earlier this year.
The board voted 4-1 to file an injunction against the commission and Gatlin.
Selectmen Ronnie Brock, Donovan Hill, Devante Johnson and Shawn Williams voted to enter litigation and Selectman Ted Tullos opposed. Selectman Michael Cameron was not included in the vote, having previously been asked to leave the meeting for not wearing a face mask.
The board refused to go into detail on the litigation, but board attorney Angela Cockerham and Mayor Quordiniah Lockley previously went to court over the disputed civil service hearing. Cockerham, a state representative, had asked for a continuance because the Legislature was still in session.
Shouting could be heard through the walls of the board room in City Hall Tuesday night, specifically with Johnson insisting the board file the injunction.
Gatlin was fired in July, and city officials still haven’t given a reason. He appealed to the Civil Service Commission, but the city board has maintained he lacks civil service protection under the city’s special charter.
Civil Service Commission chairman Don Lazarus, however, has said a state law that gives police chiefs civil service protection supersedes the city’s special charter, and firing Gatlin without reason is against the commission’s rules.
Cockerham previously noted that the city’s charter was amended in 1975 for the police chief to be appointed by the city board and serve at its will and pleasure.
“The commission has no authority to conduct such a hearing regarding a disciplinary action taken against the chief of police,” Cockerham said in a letter to the commission in June. “Section 6 of the city’s charter explicitly makes the chief of police terminable at will and in the sole discretion of the Board of Mayor and Selectmen.”
The commission usually holds an hearing to determine if there were any political or religious motivations behind a termination, and if the firing was done in good faith.
Gatlin was fired in April and has since been hired as an investigator with the District Attorney’s office.
Before the executive session, the board paid Cockerham and her law firm Wise-Carter $22,971 for work on numerous court cases.
The litigation includes a suit filed by former city prosecutor David Brewer, who alleged his dismissal at the beginning of the board’s term was racially motivated, as well as a case involving garbage collection for the McComb Housing Authority, a suit regarding the Sunny Hill Water Association and work on a bond issue.
In other news, the board:
• Recognized both interim city administrator Ebony Ross and deputy city clerk Latoya Bates for their five years of service.
• Hired police officer Ernest Parsons.
• Approved a $6,308 payment to the Pike County Sheriff’s Office for housing city inmates.
• Tabled the adoption of the 2020-21 budget and the tax levy for the city and the McComb School District, saying more work needed to be done.
• Received a $37 donation from McComb Market and a $25 donation from the McComb Coca-Cola Bottling Co.