By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The return of former Deputy Chief Robert Hall to the Tupelo Police Department stirred controversy Tuesday at a City Council meeting.
After a surprise speech by Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan denouncing Hall’s reinstatement to the force, the mayor and other council members joined the debate.
“I am disappointed in this decision,” said Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington. “I thought, because of the circumstances, it should have been brought to the council.”
Newly appointed police Chief Tony Carleton had announced Hall’s return as the department’s second in command at a March 15 press conference. Hall had left the force in 2007 after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges in connection with his releasing an intoxicated hit-and-run driver in May 2006.
He since has worked for the Community Development Foundation and Toyota.
He’s expected to start work for the city March 29.
By state statute, department heads, such as police chiefs, can hire and fire without needing council approval. But Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said he supports Carleton’s decision to rehire Hall, even calling it courageous.
“I wasn’t elected to avoid controversy,” Reed said. “I was elected to make it a safer city.”
Reed said Hall’s return will make Tupelo safer.
Hall had been with the police department for 20 years before the hit-and-run incident and had an otherwise stellar career with routine promotions and accolades.
But Bryan said his decision to release a drunk driver negated his prior achievements.
“I am against the police chief and don’t understand his horrible decision,” Bryan said. “The decision has been met with disbelief from law enforcement agencies across the area and from citizens.”
Bryan also expressed disappointment in the mayor and fellow council members who “hide behind the statement that this is an administrative decision.”
He then suggested the council poll its members to gauge Hall’s support. While that didn’t happen, an earlier vote shed light on council opinions.
Bryan made a motion at the meeting’s start to place the Hall issue on the agenda. It failed in a 3-4 vote. Whittington and Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell supported the motion; all others opposed it.
Whittington and Newell were the only two, besides Bryan, to publicly question Hall’s return.
Newell criticized the lack of an open search process to fill the position, but city attorney John Hill said it isn’t required in this case.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis and Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings publicly supported Hall.
“Robert Hall I have full confidence in,” Davis said. “I feel he’s one of the most well-qualified people in the city.”
Only Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis and council President Fred Pitts reserved comment.
Capping the discussion was a speech by Lee County resident Steven Howard, who called Hall’s rehiring a major mistake for the city.
“Robert Hall,” he said, “is bad for the Tupelo Police Department.”
Carleton left immediately after the meeting and could not be reached for comment.