A spat between the mayor and police department in Paint Rock, Ala., might have led the police chief and another officer to resign and the council to vote Tuesday to disband the municipal court system.
The police department in the town of just over 200 people could be next, according to police Chief Billy Wilson, who gave a two-week notice Tuesday.
Wilson said the turmoil is over the January arrest of the mayor's son, Joseph Nevels. But Mayor Jane Nevels, in office since November 2012, said the court system is being disbanded over finances and complaints about the cost of operations.
Joseph Nevels, 42, was charged Jan. 6 with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, indecent exposure and theft, according to Wilson. He also was charged in February in connection with threatening police officers and later settled those charges by pleading to lesser offenses, Wilson said. A DUI charge in February also was settled in the plea.
The mayor on Thursday denied that her son's arrest had anything to do with the move to abolish the municipal court.
"That is what the assertion is. That is what the police chief is saying that that is what it's about. It [disbanding municipal court] had come up several times before that," Jane Nevels said.
"We have had multiple complaints about several different things. There were complaints outside of the council and mayor and there were complaints from the council and the mayor. You don't hear that because we have not spoken very much," she said.
"I can't tell you all what the complaints were. It's just a lot of expense. We have a new car, we have gas with two vehicles. It's just a lot of expense."
The town's accountant told officials in the past month or so the court system "was not cost-effective," she said.
"We are a small town," Jane Nevels said. "We can't afford it."
The mayor said a record that shows the court system had a profit of just more than $29,000 is "not a true figure."
"What money is brought in, most everything goes out to other entities," she said. "It goes to the state, it goes to all that. We just don't end up with that."
Councilman Woody Johnson, the lone "no" vote in the 4-1 decision Tuesday to abolish the court, says that's not so.
Johnson, husband of the municipal court clerk, said about $9,000 of that $29,000 profit goes to other entities, and the rest is available to the town to use as it wishes.
"The court has always operated in the black," he said. The municipal court and police department were established in 2012. Johnson said he wasn't a supporter of a town police department and court until it showed itself to be effective.
Johnson said the hubbub started after Mayor Nevels, during a council meeting, brought up talk in town about a young girl being plied with cigarettes, beer and drugs. Johnson said the mayor urged Wilson to investigate.
When Wilson charged the mayor's son, she became upset with Wilson and persuaded other council members to do away with the municipal court, Johnson said.
"They had a vote before they ever heard what the people said," Wilson said. "They'll get rid of the court, then they'll get rid of the police department." One police officer will remain on the payroll once the chief leaves.
"It's an abomination as far as I'm concerned," Johnson said. "After her boy was arrested, they never mentioned that little girl again."
The theft, indecent exposure and contributing charges against Joseph Nevels are pending, officials said.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...