Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said Tuesday night he is disappointed but not surprised by City Council's 6-2 decision not to keep on retiring police Chief Freeman Cooper as a contract employee for the next three years.
The mayor said he will ask Deputy Chief Mark Rawlston to serve as interim police chief until a permanent replacement can be hired. Further, he vowed, he will continue to work toward merging the Chattanooga Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff into a single entity.
In the meantime, he said, "I will be coming to the council with a rather large budget request for the police department . . . including money for two (police) academies."
He said he expects that will greatly please the outgoing police chief, who campaigned long and hard for two such academies during the current 2009-2010 fiscal year.
The decision not to hold any academies was "strictly budgetary" and not related to his ambition to gradually consolidate city and county law enforcement agencies, he said.
Earlier, during the council meeting, members were unanimous in their praise of Chief Cooper and their gratitude for the 28 years he has devoted to the police department.
But a majority said they believe paying the chief an incentive to retire and then finding a way to keep him on the city payroll could result in widespread misunderstanding of how the city works to protect the public.
Several members said they believe a large portion of the anger that greeted the proposal to allow Chief Cooper to keep collecting a city salary, in addition to his retirement incentive and his pension payments, resulted from inaccurate and/or incomplete information.
Apparently, many taxpayers do not realize that police officers do not get Social Security after they retire, and must rely solely on the pension funds they contributed to and richly earned during their years of service, council members said.
Nevertheless, none of the four council members who voted no last week - Chairman Jack Benson, Russell Gilbert, Peter Murphy and Andrae McGary - changed their minds.
Only one council member, Manny Rico, voted twice in favor of the proposal to keep Chief Cooper on the city payroll.
Tuesday night, Councilman Rico and Councilwoman Sally Robinson, who was not present at last week's session, cast the sole two votes in favor of giving him a new 3-year contract.
Two of last week's other voters for the contract, Councilwomen Pam Ladd and Deborah Scott, voted no this time around, and Councilwoman Carol Berz abstained.
Before the vote was taken, Councilwoman Scott lambasted members of the public and the media who have questioned the motives of members who initially favored the contract.
"Those who have inflamed this controversy . . . and questioned my motives in voting on this issue ought to be ashamed . . . The public has started to question the merit of police pensions . . . This has caused a tremendous amount of emotional distress in our police department. It is not healthy for the city," she said angrily.