The new city of South Fulton nearly had its first police chief this week — briefly.
The mayor offered him a job, saying he was the best person to lead the new police department. But the offer came after members of council specifically asked the mayor not to hire anyone, one councilwoman said. Wednesday, council members met in an emergency executive session. Afterward, they reiterated that the position would not yet be filled.
“There was no action taken by this city council to hire or fire a police chief,” Councilwoman Catherine Foster-Rowell said after the meeting.
Luther Lamar, the erstwhile chief, also happened to have been Mayor Bill Edwards’ driver when the former was a Fulton County police officer and the latter a county commissioner, a councilperson said.
Helen Zenobia Willis, a member of city council, said council members did not know of the connection when they asked Edwards not to make an offer. She said because South Fulton is in the process of hiring a city manager, she and others wanted that person to have a say in who led the police department.
“We had no idea the mayor had hired a police chief,” Willis said. “We found out the chief was hired on social media, just like everyone else.”
Carmalitha Gumbs, another member of council, said in a newsletter sent Wednesday morning that Edwards’ action was taken “despite the will of the council” and accused him of abusing his authority as mayor.
The newsletter said Edwards was supposed to appoint the city manager earlier this week. Tuesday, Edwards said the city was in negotiations with a candidate.
Khalid Kamau, another council member, said in his own newsletter that he and others learned that Lamar was hired via Twitter. Lamar was assistant chief of police at Baton Rouge Community College and a 14-year veteran of the Fulton County police. According to an offer letter made public by Kamau, Lamar was offered $135,000 a year.
Edwards said it was Lamar’s lack of experience as a police chief that bothered members of council.
Lamar, and other candidates, were vetted by police professionals, including the police chiefs of Union City and Dunwoody and Eldrin Bell, a former Atlanta police chief, Edwards said.
While these decisions would ordinarily fall to a city manager, Edwards is acting in that capacity while negotiations continue with a new manager for the city.
“I felt I had the right to do that,” Edwards said of the hire. “I guess I don’t.”
After Wednesday’s meeting, Edwards apologized to members of council for telling media organizations that Lamar had been fired, saying he was never hired.
The city will bring police officers over from the county at the end of March. Edwards said in order to do so, a new chief must be hired. It is unclear whether Lamar will remain a candidate for the job.
“Now, we’re back to square one,” he said.
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