Unicoi Board votes to establish police department

Sue Guinn Legg • Jul 15, 2019 at 10:56 PM

UNICOI — The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday took another first step toward the establishment of a town police department.

In a 4-1 vote with Alderman Kathy Bullen opposed, the board approved a resolution to establish the department that Mayor Johnny Lynch said was needed for the state and federal bureaus of investigation to enter the department in their computers.

Vice Mayor Doug Hopson began the discussion of a motion to approve the resolution by saying, “We are not doing this to have a speed trap.”

“The sheriff is aware we are trying to get an officer in here to (get people to) obey our ordinances and clean up Unicoi Drive. We’ve had been a lot of talk about that,” Hopson said.

Bullen questioned if the one officer funded by a recent $110,000 budget allocation for the department would be dispatched to every shoplifting call at the Unicoi Walmart and to every complaint called in on the businesses in Buffalo Valley.

Interim Town Recorder Larry Rae responded, “Yes, if he is on duty.” Rae noted that the budget will pay the officer for 40 work hours per week and that grant funding can be sought to cover any overtime. Town Attorney Lois Shults-Davis added the officer’s job description is being drafted to include a minimum of eight hours of town code enforcement per pay period.

Bullen asked if the officer would be required to undergo code enforcement training in addition to police academy schooling, and also questioned the wisdom of drafting the officer’s job description and having a police car parked outside town hall Monday night before the vote to establish the department.

Mayor Johnny Lynch said the police car the town looks to use is being offered for sale and has been bought to Unicoi for town officials to look over. Hopson said after the meeting the advantages of the car are its low mileage, price and the fact that is is already outfitted for police work.

Alderman Jeff Linville noted two-thirds of the county’s law enforcement calls come from the Unicoi end of the county and said the sheriff has told him he will be working closely with the new Unicoi officer. Bullen said the sheriff told her the new officer would be sitting at Walmart. And Alderman Wanda Radford said the sheriff told her he would continue doing everything he has been doing in Unicoi and was looking forward to having the Unicoi officer’s help.

In other business Monday, the board voted unanimously to approve a $38,000 bid on a “small wares equipment” purchase for Mountain Harvest Kitchen being paid for through an ARC Power Grant. Mountain Harvest recommended the bid from the Ka Tom company as the lowest of two bids received on the equipment.

In his monthly report to the board, Rae said the roof on the new farmers market pavilion being built between the kitchen and town visitors center went in place Monday and its construction will be completed soon. The pavilion is also being funded through a grant awarded to the kitchen.