BY COLIN KRIEGER
After Tupelo’s Police Chief stepped down Monday to accept a job as an assistant chief in Columbus, the number one question I’ve been asked is: Why?
Because he’s gonna be our chief, and pretty darn soon, too.
Former Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton was hired to be an assistant chief at the Columbus Police Department in a specially called meeting of the city council Monday afternoon at City Hall. Carleton, an 18-year veteran of law enforcement, has recently spent the last four years as the chief in Tupelo until he became aware recently-elected Mayor Jason Shelton had another man in mind for the job.
When Carleton began to hear the whispers of his imminent demise, he started to look for work elsewhere. WCBI reported last night that Carleton and McQueen have been chatting about the idea for months. As reported first in The Packet in February, Chief Selvain McQueen had reportedly begun to contemplate retirement after spending little more than a year at his post. One councilman even called out the embattled chief during an executive session of the council, asking if he was planning on quitting. McQueen simply responded, “I can’t say I would turn down a job if they offered double the money,” and added “But I haven’t filled out any applications.”
In an editorial I wrote at the time, I encouraged Chief McQueen to “run for the hills.” I thought, and still think, that the constant meddling by several members of the council in the day-to-day activities of his department would push anyone to their breaking point .
McQueen had butted heads on several occasions with Mayor Robert Smith and Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem. Carleton may have been the pick going as far back as the 2012 MML Conference.
I think that Chief McQueen finally sat down and did the math and realized that it just wasn’t worth it. After all, I did the math, and McQueen is up for retirement.
So, the pieces fell into place, the moves were made, and all involved will likely participate in a friendly break-up. The City of Columbus, which produced a grand charade via a handpicked “selection committee” last time, managed to pick the next chief during some very private meetings over the last few weeks. Word is that the council met in groups of three, so as not to break the rules of quorum. Sources also say that Karriem was as instrumental in the grand maneuver as Smith, which is a clear indication of the tension between the councilman and McQueen. If that weren’t clear enough, Karriem brought out the Windex at today’s meeting when he let out a resounding “SO MOVED!” when the motion to hire Carleton came to the floor. [Chuckles followed the exclamation from those “in the know.” – CK] Sooooooo, here we go. Carleton should be officially hired during an October 10 meeting of the Civil Service Commission, and will begin active duty on November 1. He will be the Assistant Chief in charge of Narcotics and Investigations for the department. He will work directly under McQueen until – I am guessing – McQueen retires in early 2014. If you have a doubt that Carleton will get the gig, one must look no further than the executive session of the council that took place while Carleton was still completing his first interviews with the local media ten feet away.
That’s when the council extended another new job to a captain from another department. [I’ve heard he’s from Louisiana, but his identity is a closely guarded secret as to protect his current job if should decline the offer. – CK] Wanna know what his job is? Huh? Ya wanna?
Head of Investigations.
Which would – if my conspiracy theory is correct – be a nice fit if Carleton had to move into a new job sometime soon, like…errr, chief?
The only reason I’m not screaming at the top of my lungs from on top of the Frosty machine at Wendy’s is that this move…makes sense, and, well, Wendy’s on 45 is still under construction.
McQueen isn’t happy, and some of the council aren’t happy with him, either. He can leave with his head held high, and still have a good reference if he needs another gig. The new guy, Carleton, has a pretty stellar reputation from a few officers I’ve spoken with who’ve worked under him. He started his career as a cop at Mississippi State – but don’t worry, he went to school at Ole Miss – and was an instructor at a law enforcement academy on the coast, Chief Jail Administrator for Lee County and an effective chief for Tupelo – a city with similar crime issues to Columbus. The Tupelo Daily Journal cited him as having a reputation for being “color-blind,” which should serve him well in our diverse community.
The new guy will have some challenges: He’s short about 12 cops from his budgeted goal, and about 20 from an ideal goal; the department is in need of major equipment upgrades; he’s going to have very “hands on” bosses with the mayor and council, and he’s coming to a city that has a high poverty rate and poor educational structure – both of which will feed the crime rate for years to come.
I think the biggest problem he’ll face is that he’s gonna be the new chief. This city has had four new chiefs in less than ten years, and that sucks. Columbus needs some stability, it needs someone here for the long haul. Carleton thought he would be able to stay in his hometown of Tupelo longer than he did, but politics reared its ugly head. If he comes in strong and steady, he should be able to weather the storm and hold off the meddling forces from up above. Carleton was asked if he ever imagined he’d find himself in this position, and he told The Packet, “A lot of things didn’t happen the way I expected (in Tupelo), and it sure didn’t happen on my terms, but God has a plan…for me, for my family and for this city. I can’t wait to work with the community down here, with these people. God put this before us.”
Colin Krieger is the Publisher of The Packet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org