EDITORIAL: Saltillo’s change

By NEMS Daily Journal

Saltillo’s decision to end the election of its chief of police and make the job an appointed post, handled by the mayor and Board of Aldermen, moves the fast-growing north Lee County community into the ranks of many other cites and towns in the region, state and across the U.S.
While obviously controversial, and opposed by elected incumbent Chief Steve Brooks, making positions like police chiefs, public works directors, and superintendents of education appointed helps remove raw politics from important services and responsibilities in the long term.
Brooks received a strong affirmation from Mayor Bill Williams, who sought the change, approved by a 3-2 vote of the Board of Aldermen.
“We want Steve Brooks to be our chief until he’s an old man,” Williams told a packed audience at Saltillo’s municipal building.
Brooks said he would not further contest the board’s decision.
Appointed chiefs of police are provided better opportunity for singular focus on their law enforcement responsibilities – including meeting goals and long-range plans agreed on by the people’s elected representatives in the mayor’s and aldermen’s offices.
When the new municipal term begins in 2013 the chief’s post becomes appointive, leaving only Baldwyn with popularly elected law enforcement leadership among the nine Lee County municipalities.
In Mississippi, once elected, officials serve a full term regardless of performance except in cases of criminality and removal under law. Mississippi has no popular recall process.
Nearly 90 percent of Mississippi municipalities have appointed chiefs.
Law enforcement models, like other government functions, have evolved and changed through American history.
Saltillo’s decision to change its law enforcement model is part of a much larger process that most communities experience as they grow and job needs change.
An appointed chief of police does not place a wall between chiefs and community constituents. Public hearings, like recent ones in Tupelo, regularly draw people to City Council and Board of Aldermen meetings to comment on, complain about, or praise law enforcement – and it’s a transparent public process like the Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday night in Saltillo.
It’s possible, of course, for citizens to elect governing board members who reverse changes that become instantly unpopular. We hope Saltillo leaders and residents give the new city police structure time to operate when the change to an appointed chief happens with the 2013 elections.
Saltillo will have other changes as its growth continues. The city’s handling of the police changes followed process in public view – a good example.