Columbus Mayor Robert Smith will not veto the city council’s decision to hire Oscar Lewis III as the police department’s new chief.
“It is by far in the best interest of the city and the police department to follow the majority vote of the council in hiring Chief Lewis,” Smith said in a press release issued this morning.
The city council voted 3-2 in executive session Tuesday to hire Lewis for the chief of police position, which has been vacant since former chief Tony Carleton stepped down in November. The hire came immediately after the council interviewed Lewis, as well as Interim CPD Chief Fred Shelton and Art McClung, the police chief in Moss Point.
On Thursday, The Dispatch published an editorial urging Smith to veto the council’s move. The editorial stated that the paper’s position had nothing to do with Lewis’ qualifications, Shelton’s qualifications or McClung’s qualifications. Rather, The Dispatch felt it was important for city residents to have an opportunity for their opinions to be heard and for Ward 5 to have a councilman in place before the hire was made.
The Ward 5 council seat has been vacant since early January, when Kabir Karriem, who held the position for six years, stepped down to begin a term in the Legislature. A special election to fill that council seat is scheduled for Feb. 16.
Approximately 3,175 registered voters reside in Ward 5.
Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens, Ward 4 Councilman Marty Turner and Ward 1 Councilmen Gene Taylor voted Tuesday to hire Lewis. Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin were opposed.
The mayor this morning said a veto of the council’s vote would “hurt the city and the department.”
“The majority of the council made their choice clear with their vote,” Smith said. “I will honor their vote and the decision they made and will not veto the vote. We would be moving nothing but backward if I vetoed that decision.”
The mayor added that he is looking forward to working with Lewis.
“We have already started working together on getting him into position…” Smith said. “We will have a smooth transition and I know he will do a great job for our citizens.”
Lewis is the current chief of police in Waynesboro.
Columbus leaders have not announced a date for Lewis to begin his new job. His salary has not been set, either.
The city advertised a $72,000 to $75,000 salary range for the chief of police position.
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.
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