Almost four years after a previous city council demoted him from Chief to Lieutenant for the "betterment of the department", Richard Jennings has been returned to the position of Police Chief, a job that six different men have held since 1994, five within the last four years.
The Smithville Board of Mayor and Aldermen met in special session Friday evening and voted to make Jennings the next Police Chief. The vote was 3 to 2.
The position has been vacant since the resignation of former Chief Thomas J. Stufano last month. Sergeant Steven Leffew has been serving as Officer in Charge of the department.
Jennings told WJLE after the meeting that he is honored to once again serve the citizens of Smithville as Police Chief. "It's a humbling experience to be given this opportunity again to serve my community. I want to thank everybody who supported me. I want to thank the people who came to the meetings to support me, who talked to me on the street and supported me, and to those who called me at home, and I had some who wrote me letters. I really appreciate that and I certainly will try to do the best job that I possibly can for this community. I will work closely with the board of mayor and aldermen and together I think we can bring this department up to the level that the citizens deserve and expect."
Jennings took over from Tom Hopkins as Chief in 1994, after Hopkins resigned. Jennings served until November, 2003 when the city council demoted him to the rank of Lieutenant. Jennings was succeeded by Jim Baker as Chief, but Baker was demoted back to the rank of patrolman in July 2004. Sergeant Sam Dunbar followed Baker as Chief, but Dunbar resigned in January 2006 under a cloud of controversy after being accused of falsifying documents. Augustine (Gus) Clemente was hired to replace Dunbar in March, 2006 but he resigned five months later, accusing city officials of interferring in police operations and making racial slurs against him. Stufano was named Chief in November, 2006 and resigned in September, 2007.
Alderman Jerry Hutchins Sr. made the motion Friday evening to hire Jennings as Chief. Alderman Willie Thomas offered the second to the motion. Alderman Tonya Sullivan joined them in voting for Jennings.
Aldermen Cecil Burger and Steve White voted against Jennings.
Burger, who is also a former Mayor, said "I'll agree that he (Richard) is certified. He's capable of doing it but he won't. If he couldn't do it before, how could he do it now? He's spent money and started programs that he never would finish. I don't think he's capable of doing it any more now than he did then. I was here when he came here and we've worked together all these years. I don't have to be told about Richard. We've never had no problems or trouble. His operation just don't fit the project."
Hutchins responded, saying "I think Richard has done a good job with the police department. He's been with them a long time."
White claims that Jennings remains under investigation based on allegations of misconduct made against him several weeks ago (concerning removal of weapons from the police department) and suggested that the case could be presented to the Grand Jury for indictment in December. (Jennings had been terminated by a three man disciplinary hearing board but he appealed the decision to the entire board of aldermen and was re-instated as Lieutenant following a hearing in August). According to White, "The investigation over when we had a hearing here awhile back is still open and on-going with Richard."
In response, Hutchins said " He has not been convicted of anything".
White answered "No, but remember what happened not long ago with another Chief (apparently referring to Tom Stufano concerning allegations made against him in a federal court lawsuit by Roy Ray over a traffic stop). The reason we're in this process to begin with is because allegations was put forth and the chief was voted out.(Stufano was placed on administrative leave with pay pending an independent investigation but he was returned to office on a mayoral veto of the council's decision) According to White, "his (Jennings') case is not over or closed. So remember that and the legality of it."
Sullivan says Jennings had the most experience of any of the applicants for the job and she has been assured by the proper authorities that Jennings will not be charged with a crime. "I made some phone calls and I took a look at his files and contacted the proper authorities to ask if there was going to be any charges against Mr. Jennings. I was told there would be no charges."
Sullivan then asked White, "Do you have different information that says that he will be charged versus the information that I have received directly?"
White replied, "I don't know where you got your information, but it's supposed to come up in December(Grand Jury), the last that I heard."
Sullivan asked, ‘What are the charges"?
White answered, "I'm not really for sure, all of it is in the D.A.'s hands but the prosecutor has not been notified that anything has changed and that he was still going to be subpoenaed to go in December"
Sullivan replied, "I was told by those authorities that there would be no charges".
Sullivan then added, "After interviewing, I didn't see anyone in the interviews that was more qualified than Mr. Jennings, or had more years of service."
Prior to the vote on Jennings, White made a motion to hire Kenneth D. Smith of Watertown as Police Chief. Smith, one of the seven applicants for police chief, is currently employed with the Mount Juliet Police Department. He worked for the Lebanon Police Department from 1986 to 2006. Burger seconded the motion, but the vote to hire Smith failed on a 3 to 2 vote. Aldermen Hutchins, Thomas, and Sullivan voted against Smith.
Jennings began his law enforcement career with the City of Smithville in 1976. He joined the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department in 1977 working for then Sheriff Dwight Mathis until he left office in 1986. Jennings rejoined the Smithville Police Department in 1986 and was appointed Police Chief in 1994, a position he held for nine years before being re-assigned by the city council in November, 2003.
Meanwhile, Hunter Hendrixson has been hired as Secretary/Treasurer and Financial Officer for the city while Kevin Robinson is the new Public Works Director. The aldermen voted unanimously, 5 to 0, to hire them.
Mayor Taft Hendrixson says Hunter Hendrixson will be paid $37,500 per year until he becomes certified as the state requires. He must complete certification in a timely manner. Once he becomes certified, Hendrixson will be paid $42,500 per year.
As Public Works Director, Kevin Robinson will be paid at $15.38 cents per hour or $32,000 per year. Mayor Hendrixson says this job will require some mandatory overtime because Robinson will be called out on holidays, weekends, and nights due to water or sewer line breaks, etc.
Hendrixson and Robinson will replace Burnace Vandergiff, who was paid $52,000 per year.