Biloxi's top cop nominee wasn't supposed to fill that vacancy

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Linda Atterberry was named Biloxi's interim police chief in May for one basic reason.  She was not supposed to be a candidate for the permanent position.

"This person will not be a candidate for the director's position," Mayor A.J. Holloway said when introducing Atterberry on May 13.

Yet Tuesday night, Atterberry's name was submitted to the city council so she could become the director of police on a permanent basis.  And a day later, councilmen want to know why.

A total of 39 people submitted applications for the Biloxi Police Chief post.  The five finalists are all current members of the city's police force.

On August 12, the committee interviewed the finalists.  After plenty of discussion, the committee recommended that Biloxi promote 15 year police department veteran Linda Atterberry to its top law enforcement job.

Instead of rubber stamping the mayor's selection, the council tabled Atterberry's appointment.

"I think without a doubt she has the experience," said councilman Tom Wall.

Yet, when Wall was told Tuesday that in just six hours, he would be voting on Linda Atterberry as Biloxi's next police chief, he had some reservations.  So did George Lawrence.  And so did three other councilmen who approached Wall before the meeting.

"It seemed like it was just kind of trying to rubber stamp the thing.  And that's what we don't want to do," said Wall.

By a 6-1 vote, the police chief vote got tabled.

Atterberry got the highest score from the five person search committee.  Sheriff Melvin Brisolara was on that committee.

"We did the interview process with all five of the candidates," he said.  "The scoring mechanism took place.  Linda came out number one."

Which is why Mayor A.J. Holloway said, "If I don't follow the recommendation of the committee, why do I want a committee? Linda is the recommendation of the committee, and I support that recommendation."

What Biloxians around the community, and readers on wlox.com are wondering is how Atterberry ever became a permanent police chief candidate.  Remember, when Holloway introduced Atterberry as his interim chief, he said he chose Biloxi's Emergency Management Coordinator because he wanted somebody in the interim role who would not be a candidate for the permanent position.  Yet sometime between May 13 and the July 17 application deadline, the mayor allowed Atterberry to submit her application.

"Shortly after she came on board, I recognized the ability that she has," he said.  "I decided that she deserved an opportunity to come and make an application for that job."

The mayor will put the Atterberry nomination on next week's budget hearing agenda.  And Councilman Wall says she'll probably get his vote.

"I'm going to have to have some reasons why I should not vote for her.  Otherwise, I would vote to confirm her," he said.

The one issue Wall says is bothering him is where Atterberry lives.  Because her home is in Long Beach, she knows questions about her residency may come up while council members debate her nomination.

She told WLOX News that once her mortgage is paid off next year, she'd love relocating to Biloxi.  But only if she found a home that fit within her family's price range.

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