By Ed Brock
Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day said Police Chief Mark Harris' resignation took her completely by surprise, despite rumors that he was forced out.
Harris was among about 40 city employees up for reappointment by the council at Monday night's meeting and rumors were flying throughout the day that he would not be reappointed. But before the council had a chance to vote on the appointments, Jonesboro City Manager Jon Walker told the council that Harris had resigned.
"I'd like you to accept his resignation," Walker said.
Harris said he had dealt mostly with Walker regarding his resignation, which he turned in at 4:30 p.m. Monday and which takes effect Feb. 1. Harris did not attend Monday night's meeting.
"I want to move on with my life," Harris said. "I'm sure there are bigger and better opportunities out there for me."
After the meeting Day said she hadn't talked to Harris since the city's Christmas party and she had no idea he was going to resign. She also denied being behind any effort to oust the chief as had been mentioned in television reports.
"I think he's a promising young man with a great career ahead of him," Day said.
When asked for her opinion about the job Harris had done as chief, Day said she would not talk about that because it was a personnel matter.
Harris said that as chief he "did the best with what I had."
Only Wallace Norrington, the only black member of the council, voted not to accept Harris' resignation. Norrington said he would not discuss his reasons for voting as he did.
Harris, 41, was appointed interim chief in July 2000 after the previous chief, Michael Montgomery, left the department. Harris was chosen as the full-time chief in February 2001. He was the city's first black police chief.
The rumors that Harris was being forced out also drew Gail Davenport, president of the Clayton County chapter of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
"We were just wondering why his contract was not renewed," Davenport said. "I think he was probably forced out."
Davenport said the coalition is concerned about the low number of black department heads in the county and municipal governments of Clayton County. She said the coalition had received complaints about discrimination in the Riverdale fire and police departments as well as Jonesboro's fire and police departments.
When told that Walker had pointed out previously that Jonesboro is an "at will" employer, meaning that by the city's charter it can fire whoever it wishes, Davenport said that maybe Walker and Morrow City Manager John Lampl also "had to go."
"All these racist people in the county need to go," Davenport said.
Jonesboro police Officer Ken Alexander addressed the council after the meeting, asking members if he could plan on having a job in 2009 when he will have been with the department for 10 years.
"I want to get a house," Alexander said. "Will I have a job in 2009? I give Jonesboro my best every day. ? If I give someone my best I want them to appreciate my best."
All other members of the police department were reappointed by the council, but part of the resolution that put that re-appointment in effect said "that all officers and employees so elected or appointed by said Mayor and Council shall ? agree to be subject to suspension, removal or dismissal therefrom at the will of the Mayor or Council." That removal can occur at any time, according to the resolution.
Alexander said he liked Harris, and former Jonesboro police Maj. Freeman Poole, who was also a candidate for chief at the time Harris was appointed, said Harris was a "super guy."
"He always had the department's welfare in mind," Poole said.