Benton council officially names police chief

RACHEL KELLER COLLINS/The Tribune-Courier

Benton Police Chief Stephen Sanderson officially assumed his new role today.

Controversy surrounding the appointment of Stephen Sanderson as Benton's new police chief during the recent city council meeting centered on the method of selection, not Sanderson. As with the last Benton Police Chief appointment, the council was at odds while two of its members bucked the method by which the appointment was made--but Sanderson was officially voted in as former Chief Jeromy Hicks' replacement, effective today.

Mayor Rita Dotson initiated the agenda item by recommending the appointment of Sanderson, Councilwoman Rita Murray made the motion for the appointment and then Dotson opened the floor for discussion.

Councilwoman Sherra Riley spoke first, saying she believed there would be a public outcry if the council didn't post the opening and conduct interviews. She said she likes Sanderson personally but thought he should serve as interim chief while the council searched to see if there was someone more qualified for the position. She also suggested this method of selection may negatively impact the morale of the department.

Councilman Butch Holland disagreed with Riley, saying he believed promoting from within when possible is the best policy for morale boosting. He noted Sanderson has served on the department for 12.5 years and has a very good record of service. He said he wanted to go along with Dotson's recommendation and make the appointment.

Murray said she also disagreed with Riley about the decision negatively impacting morale, referencing her time at the post office when management positions were regularly filled by outsiders even when there was someone locally who was qualified. She said Sanderson has done a wonderful job and has a good record, which is why she also supported the recommendation.

Councilwoman Ann Riley said after serving more than 40 years with state government she has a healthy respect for the Kentucky Revised Statutes, which mandate Dotson has the authority to make an appointment and the council votes for that appointment. KRS makes no mention of an interview process, she noted--just an appointment and a vote. She said any issues with KRS need to be taken up with legislators, not the mayor.

Councilman Charlie Edmonds said he has considered the matter quite a bit and believed Sanderson was the best man for the job.

Councilman Kevin Farley said he would have preferred to have all members of the council interviewing candidates for the position, even though that would require an open meeting and conducting those interviews in front of the media because the next police chief will have to regularly deal with the media. He also said since they had a hiring committee last time involving the council members he thought the council should be involved in this process for the sake of consistency.

Dotson said she had provided the entire council with Sanderson's phone number and email address so they could contact him directly and get to know him, ask questions--then she asked how many of the council members took the time to get to know him, noting she was only aware for sure of Edmonds and Holland doing so.

"We went through a huge debacle politically and emotionally [last time] and I'm not opening up the next chief to that," Dotson said. "He's been with the department for 12.5 years and for eight has been a sergeant and his record has no blemishes. It's not about the next in line--it's about the best man for the job. It's about knowing he has the faithfulness and personality along with the qualifications and education. He has everything we need for chief and if I believed otherwise I would have looked outside the department."

Dotson also told the council because she works directly with the officers every day, she knows them--she knows which of them are slackers just getting by and which officers truly care and are dedicated to their service. She said she's done a lot of thinking and a lot of investigating and Sanderson's name kept rising to the top.

"With everything I've told you, what do you want that he doesn't have," she asked the council members. She also noted she's gotten positive feedback from the officers, with the exception of one or two who were vying for the jobs themselves, who supported Sanderson's appointment.

Dotson called for the vote; Murray had made the motion and Holland offered the second. Murray, Holland, Riley and Edmonds voted in favor. Farley and Riley abstained from the vote. Dotson asked them if they understood that meant their votes went with the majority and they kept their votes the same.

Benton City Hall is hosted a retirement party for Hicks yesterday at City Hall.

In other business:

• Farley said he still hasn't received numbers from the county regarding the ongoing animal control issues. Dotson said those issues have continued to worsen recently, with animal control personnel telling Benton's residents they don't receive funds from Benton or Calvert City so they don't respond to calls in those areas; she said Benton's police officers have also reported ongoing issues with animal control. She suggested a few alternatives including the city hiring its own dog catcher and equipping the officers to catch them before dropping them off at the shelter. She noted if they go that route, the council will have to set up a fund to pay the $20 drop-off fee for each animal. She asked the council to consider options and be ready for arriving at a resolution during the Oct. meeting because "it's a real issue and we have to get it resolved."

• The council set the Halloween curfew for 10 p.m.

• Dotson announced City Clerk/Treasurer Bethany Cooper earned the Certified Municipal Clerk (CMC) certificate from the International Institute of Municipal Clerks, which denotes a proficiency of position and demonstration of a mastery of administrative skills critical to good government.

• The council unanimously voted in favor of a resolution allowing City Attorney Zach Brien to litigate for imminent domain power to obtain an easement for the sewer pump project which is part of the expansion to the Southwest One Industrial Park. Brien explained due to a complicated history of unknown wills and multiple generations of the family having died and/or moved away, this is the only way he could see for resolving the matter. He said the city is looking to obtain a temporary easement for construction and a permanent easement for the utilities.

• The council unanimously approved the second reading of the tax rates for 2019: $0.215 on each $100 value of real property; $0.2857 on each $100 value of personal property; $0.24 on each $100 value of motor vehicle. All taxes, except those paid on motor vehicles, paid on or before Nov. 15 will be discounted 2%; all taxes not paid by Jan. 1, 2020 will be required to pay a 5% penalty.