Dispute over Biloxi police chief may end up in court

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A heated exchange flared up Tuesday afternoon between Biloxi Councilman Tom Wall and the mayor's attorney, Michael Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh brought up state statutes and an attorney general's opinion, stating that the Biloxi City Council should look at Linda Atterberry's qualifications in determining whether she should get the job as the city's permanent police chief.

"Confirmation should not be withheld without good cause," Cavanaugh said. "At this point, there has been no finding of cause, good or indifferent, as far as the applicant is concerned."

On August 4th, Atterberry was named acting director for a 90-day period.  But in September, council members declined to approve Atterberry as the permanent head of the department. At that time, Wall said he didn't believe the selection process was handled correctly.  The mayor had told the council Atterberry wasn't being considered, then changed his mind.

"You've already made that determination that she's qualified," Cavanaugh said.

"No, I don't believe we have," Wall responded.

"Well, your resolution stated so," Cavanaugh said.

"No, we have not," Wall said.  "We voted to confirm her as acting chief, and that's what we intended to do.  We had no intentions of extending it and we had no intentions of making it permanent.  If you want to rubber stamp the council, just issue the equipment and we'll comply."

"I'm giving you the benefit of what the law says," Cavanaugh said.

"How do we go about confirming someone we don't believe is the person for the job?" Wall asked.

"Same way you've confirmed everyone else who has appeared before the council," Cavanaugh said. "You look at the qualifications.  You're given information on who the applicants are."

"We're doing the council portion.  We're either accepting or rejecting the nomination, pure and simple," Biloxi Council President Bill Stallworth said.

By a five-to-one vote, the council rejected the mayor's request to extend Atterberry's interim position. After the vote, the mayor said a Chancery Court judge may have to settle the dispute.

"We might have to go to court to resolve this," Holloway said. "I think the council is overstepping. If they had something that they could say, that she's not qualified for this position, that's different.  Just because they don't like her or they don't like me, that's not a reason."

Holloway said he feels optimistic that a judge will side with him, because he fought a similar battle over a school board nominee in the past.

"Been there, done that, and they ruled in my favor and I think it will be again if we do that," Holloway said. "She doesn't want to keep going through this kind of crap. I don't blame her for that, but I'll stay with her as long as she wants to stay."

Atterberry had little to say about the council's decision.

When asked if she was disappointed, Atterberry responded, "I'm not surprised.  Of course I'm disappointed. I want the job. I mean, that's the name of politics."

Mayor Holloway said Atterberry still has about a week left in her job as the interim police chief.   That means he has to nominate someone else to take over the position. The mayor said there are a couple of people he is considering.

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