Pesky ordinance doesn’t stop recognition of Oxford police chief

Aug. 15, 2013 @ 07:46 PM

OXFORD — At a special called meeting on Thursday, the Oxford Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution awarding retiring Police Chief John Wolford his service sidearm and credentials.

But it wasn’t without discussion and some disagreement. No commissioner objected to recognizing Wolford in this way. The question was whether the action was in accord with Oxford city ordinances.

After Mayor Jackie Sergent read the resolution, Commissioner Howard Herring moved to adopt it.

Commissioner Frank Strickland said the city ordinance makes retiring police officers eligible to receive their credentials and sidearm after 20 years of service with the city. Wolford has served as chief for 13 years.

Strickland proposed amending the ordinance to remove the number of years required. He said he favored making the award to Wolford, but only after changing the ordinance.

“We’d be going on record as violating our own ordinance,” he said.

City Attorney Thomas Burnette said, “I don’t think you can vote to finalize a change in the ordinance at this meeting.”

Herring said, “John Wolford has served this city well. I have no problem supporting Commissioner Strickland’s proposal, but I think we should deal with this issue right here and now.”

Gordon Blackwell, a retired Oxford police officer, said, “The average time a chief serves is six years. The ordinance could exclude future chiefs. The ordinance does need to be changed.”

Saying she was uncomfortable voting on a change in the ordinance without seeing the final product, Sergent said they could deal with it later to give them time to work on the wording.

She called for a vote on the resolution to award his credentials and sidearm to Wolford. It passed 5-2, with Strickland and C.J. Harris voting against.

Commissioner Betty Moseley abstained, which meant her vote was tallied with the affirmative votes.

Sergent directed City Manager Randy Hemann to work with Strickland and Burnette on wording of an ordinance amendment and put it on the agenda for the board’s next meeting.

Wolford, who has been the Oxford police chief since 2000, has more than 38 years in law enforcement plus two years in the court system. He served as a police chief in six other cities before coming to Oxford.

Wolford announced his resignation in late January to be effective Sept. 1, saying he wanted to give the city adequate time to find the best possible person to succeed him. Hemann reported to the commissioners on Tuesday that the search process was almost complete and he hoped to make an announcement within a week.

In another item of business, the commissioners authorized Oxford resident Royster Washington to consult with a restoration company on the cost of preserving an 1826 map of Oxford and a newspaper listing of city ordinances of the same date.


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