In a move that was hardly surprising, the McComb city board voted Monday to appeal a Civil Service Commission ruling that determined former police chief Damian Gatlin was wrongfully terminated and should be reinstated.
The board voted 3-2 to appeal, with selectmen Ronnie Brock, Devante Johnson and Shawn Williams voting in favor and selectmen Micheal Cameron and Ted Tullos opposing. Selectman Donovan Hill was absent for the vote, walking into City Hall minutes after the brief meeting adjourned.
The commission won approval from a judge last week to grant Gatlin a hearing regarding his April 14 termination after the city tried to prevent the hearing from taking place.
The commission ruled in a 2-0 vote that Gatlin was entitled to his old job, as well as back pay and benefits retroactive to his firing.
Before the vote Tullos asked if the city had two police chiefs because of the ruling and if the city would have to approve Gatlin’s back pay.
Board attorney Angela Cockerham said the appeal halts the process.
“Everything is going to be on hold until the appeal is heard,” Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said.
Gatlin appealed the termination to the commission, which prompted a legal battle between the city board, which argued that Gatlin served at its will and pleasure, and the commission, which said Gatlin — like other public safety employees — was entitled to a hearing to determine if he was fired unfairly.
After multiple attempts from the board to prevent the hearing, including a failed restraining order, the commission held the five-hour hearing on Wednesday and announced Friday that it had concluded that Gatlin was fired for political reasons.
In other news, board attorney Angela Cockerham said the State Ethics Commission could not determine if the board violated the Open Meetings Act during a special called meeting April 15 to approve the city’s budget.
“We try to make sure that everything that is discussed that can be discussed is discussed in the public,” she said. “We want to be as transparent as possible.”
Lockley called a recess for Tullos to speak with Cameron and Hill in private regarding the recent hiring of Ed Silence for social media services. But a fourth selectman, Ronnie Brock, joined in the meeting, causing them to make quorum. The state Open Meeting Act treats a quorum of elected officials as a public meeting.
Cockerham said an Ethics Commission told her, “They cannot say illegality occurred with respect to what transpired.”
After the discussion, the board voted unanimously to reverse the contract with Silence, who is expected to make comments at tonight’s board meeting.