ITALY — The Italy City Council reinstated Diron Hill as chief of police for the City of Italy Monday night following an executive session with Ed Voss, city attorney.
Hill had been fired by newly-elected mayor James Hobbs Saturday just before the Guns-n-Hoses fundraiser began.
The city council meeting had to be moved to the community center due to the estimated 75-80 citizens in attendance. They could not all fit into regular council chambers.
Holly Hill, wife of the police chief, appealed to the council stating that her husband is extremely hurt and humiliated by the termination. She said her husband is ethical and loyal and loves this town, loves this police department and loves his officers. She said his 20-year career in law enforcement has been stellar.
She pointed out the many things that he has upgraded within the police department. She also noted that he implemented the Citizens on Patrol, Fourth of July Guns-n-Hoses fundraiser for the annual Shop with a Cop for children. More recently, she said he implemented the Cinco de Mayo celebration.
She said that her husband would continue to give the city 110 percent should he be reinstated.
Mrs. Hill received a standing ovation by those in the crowd following her comments.
Karen Mathiowetz said she was there Saturday when the termination took place and she said the incident literally made her ill and said she was embarrassed for the out-of-towners that witnessed the event.
She said, “I don’t want to live in a town where anything like that happens again. Chief Hill, you are the most professional chief I have ever seen. We have never had a department like you have set up here.”
Working with Shop with a Cop, she said the police chief and officers she worked with are all professional.
She concluded, “Do whatever it takes to make sure this never happens again. Do the right thing and do whatever it takes to keep Chief Hill. It would be an atrocity if the city did not keep him.”
Sandy Eubank thanked the Italy police and fire departments for trying to pull the city together and thanked Hill for his service to the community.
Jackie Cate Jr., a lifelong resident of Italy, said he has been a volunteer firefighter for 25 years. He said he has served on the council and knows there are things that happen that the public may not know about.
“What brings me here tonight,” he said, “is the word professionalism, which means with dignity and character. Last Saturday night an incident took place that was inappropriate and very unprofessional. I am very disappointed that an elected official would choose a fundraiser for the children of this community to terminate a city employee. Even if you were in fear of the employee’s reaction, the fundraiser was not the time or the place.”
Cate continued, “If a city employee needs to be terminated, by all means terminate them, but I would expect it to be handled in a professional manner, with a whole lot more character and class than what was displayed last Saturday.
Addressing Hobbs, Cate said, “You may be doing good things for the city, I even agree with some of the changes you are trying to make but as most of my friends will tell you, I am the type of person who calls it like I see it and last Saturday, sir, you were out of line. I think you owe everyone who worked so hard to bring this event together an apology.”
Billy Ray Turner said there has been a lot going on the in the last couple of years and told the council members that they did not need to lose a man like Hill.
He said the chief has made a point to get to know all the residents in his neighborhood. He said the officers will slow down and talk with people going up and down the street or sitting in their yard. He said the chief “knows us.” He said the chief will stop and sit in the yard and just talk.
Turner said, “These officers care.” He concluded, “God gave me a second chance, you ought to give this man a second chance.”
Before convening into executive session, Hill’s attorney asked that all matters pertaining to his client be discussed in open session.
Following the executive session, Rodney Guthrie, mayor pro tem, made the motion to reinstate Hill, effective July 6 and authorized the city attorney to contact Bill Parker to conduct an independent investigation. Dennis Perkins seconded the motion which passed unanimously.
In another heated topic, the council named Frank Jackson to fill the seat vacated by Hobbs when he beat Jackson in the mayoral race.
Four men requested placement to fill the vacated spot – Tom Little, Frank Jackson, Rodger Jackson and Steven Farmer. Each man addressed the council members pointing out how they can help the city by serving on the council.
Following the executive session, Guthrie said the city attorney advised the council that they may appoint someone to fill the spot or call for a special election. After making that statement, Guthrie made the motion for Frank Jackson to fill the spot. Perkins seconded the motion which passed unanimously.
There were two other items discussed in closed session – a grievance filed by Manual Martin, court clerk; and Teri Murdock, city secretary/administrator.
Perkins said no action was taken on either matter but said the council has received the grievances.
Before the executive session, the council conducted other business and heard from several citizens.
Troy Kowalsky asked the city to consider waiving the late fee if someone is late paying their water bill if it happens less than once a year. He said the city now has the smart meters and it should not be a problem for someone to look up his water usage on a computer or how often they are late paying their water bill. He said if they didn’t like that idea, he suggested they allow residents to pay their water bill online.
The council tabled the item until the city administrator could investigate options. They said it should be on the agenda for the next city council meeting.
James Helms addressed the council about illegal dumping. Helms said someone is dumping trash at the car wash located at Simms and Main streets. He said he has gotten names out of the trash bags and carried them to the police department. When he couldn’t get satisfaction from the police department, he went to Hobbs to get the matter straightened out.
Shawn Martin, police officer, said a complaint has been filed and he would get back with Helms concerning the matter.
The council also unanimously named John Droll to the vacant seat on the planning and zoning commission. Greg Richards made the motion with a second from Guthrie.
The council authorized Murdock to write an ordinance, according to Uniform Traffic Standards, to stop parking on the service road (highway entrances/exits) from I-35E toward the Dollar General. Richards made the motion with a second from Guthrie.
The council also approved a 2008 request from the county asking that East Highway 34 be renamed Southwest State Hwy. 34 due to 9-1-1 issues. Murdock said this affects 10-15 houses from East Main Street to the city limits. Richards made the motion to approve the request with a second from Perkins. Bruce Utley voted for the motion. Guthrie voted against the motion.
They heard comments from Joan Grabowski, Donna Cuerrera and Frank Boyer. Grabowski questioned the water report residents recently received. Murdock told her this was the information required by the state. Cuerrera asked the council to fill the vacated council seat with Rodger Jackson or Steven Farmer. Boyer complained about the “city’s loss of integrity.”
The council also approved consent items and heard department reports.