April 5, 2023

Tempers flare in Brookhaven board meeting as police chief will no longer be elected

Therese Apel

Brookhaven Police Chief Kenny Collins
Alderman Don Underwood

It was tense in the City of Brookhaven’s board room Tuesday night as an alderman and a police chief squared off over an inevitable vote to make the top cop position appointed, rather than elected.

A discussion that had been ongoing for a long time, the question of electing a police chief has been bounced around among local politicians, even at some points trying to get state legislators to change the law, presumably so they wouldn’t have to do it themselves. Nobody wants to hurt anybody’s feelings in Brookhaven, a bystander at the courthouse could be heard saying Tuesday night.

About 24 minutes into the city’s YouTube live broadcast, Alderman at Large Don Underwood made a motion to appoint and not elect a police chief starting in two years, when the next election would fall. Underwood said he had done some research and only nine police chiefs across the state are elected, while the rest are appointed.

Mayor Joe Cox said he felt like it was too early to make the move, and that it should be closer to the time of the election, to which Underwood countered that it wouldn’t be fair to people who might want to run for police chief to spring it at the last minute.

“I’d like to make a statement on that,” Chief Kenny Collins said, but he was told he couldn’t make a statement until the vote had been taken.

Ward 6 Alderman Andre Spiller had seconded Underwood’s motion, and Ward 4 Alderman Jeff Henning also voted in favor, but Ward 5 Alderman Fletcher Grice voted against it. The remaining board members abstained from voting.

As the meeting continued, Collins could be heard muttering about whether “the board is going to run the police department,” and something about a black man being able to be elected. Then he addressed Underwood, saying that “your little group ain’t gonna run this town.”

Underwood responded, “Somebody needs to because you ain’t doing it.”

Cox called for order and Underwood explained that Collins was in the back making comments, which led to further loud exchanges. Cox pounded his gavel on the table, but it was ineffective.

Underwood’s chair was closest to the podium, and he stood up as Collins continued to talk. The loud discussion moves off camera at which point, Underwood could be heard saying, “Get your hand off of me!”

As other aldermen broke them up and the mayhem escalated, Collins could be heard saying, “Brookhaven got a right to elect their chief.”

Underwood said, “I’m gonna ake a statement because I want Brett (Campbell, of The Daily Leader) to get this. I wasn’t going to hit him, but you saw what happened when he thought he could get on Jeff, he was the aggressor…”

“You’ve got a problem,” Collins interrupted.

Underwood was referring to a recent incident when Collins and Ward 4 Alderman Jeff Henning had an altercation as well, but the rest of both his and Collins’ comments to each other was lost in the fray, along with the rest of the discussion in the room.

Finally the camera was cut off.

After the meeting, Underwood said he won’t press charges on Collins, but that he wasn’t going to be bullied. He said he felt a little sheepish that the whole thing happened, but that moving to an appointed chief is what’s best for Brookhaven.

Aberdeen, Amory, Baldwyn, Corinth, Iuka, Nettleton, New Albany and Okolona are the remaining cities that still elect their chiefs.

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