COVINGTON — After discussion at a council retreat on Feb. 4-5, the Covington City Council agreed by consensus to allow City Manager Scott Andrews hire a code enforcement officer rather than a second city marshal. Unlike the city marshal, a code enforcement officer does not carry a gun.
The issue first came up during the council’s work session on Jan. 14, with Andrews noting that with the resignation of one of the city marshals, and with some discussion already abut the issue, he felt the time was ripe to get feedback from the current council.
In April 2017, by a 4-3 consensus, the Covington City Council approved changing the city’s code enforcement officers to POST-certified city marshals and allowed them to carry handguns and wear tactical gear such as a bullet-proof vest while performing their duties.
But with a new mayor and four new council members since that vote was taken, some members questioned the need for city marshals to carry handguns and the intimidation factor when they met with citizens and businesses. The council agreed at the time to discuss it more at the retreat.
Andrews proposed to keep the one remaining city marshal, but to have him carry his weapon concealed rather than out in the open. Andrews also proposed changing the uniform of the city marshal to one of the brightly colored Covington shirts and khaki pants and to allow the marshal to keep the bullet-proof vest in his vehicle in case he felt like he needed it.
Then Andrews proposed transitioning the vacant city marshal position to that of a code enforcement officer.
“When the current city marshal retires in however many years, then we can re-evaluate both positions,” Andrews said. “That gives us some middle ground here.”
Councilman Anthony Henderson had expressed opposition previously to the city marshal having a gun and stated he couldn’t think of any place in Covington where a gun was needed.
Councilman Don Floyd also noted that he was a code enforcement officer for 19 years and never needed a gun. He said if he ever felt threatened, he just called for a police officer.
But Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams, who was absent from the Jan. 14 work session, said times have changed.
“This country is changing — Covington included — and when you go on people’s property and telling them what they should and shouldn’t do, for a lot of people that’s quite intimidating,” she said. “That’s the reason why the enforcement person is there, for something that needs to be done.
“We don’t know all the people in this city. Most of us only know the people we’re familiar with, so we’re not aware of all the people because so many people have moved here. I want everybody to be safe.”
Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said many cities now use the city marshal program because the marshals are “the enforcement arm of the courts.”
“That is why when they show up, people look at them like they’re the police, because they do have some limited police power,” Cotton said. “Quite frankly, in our society today, we see people shooting each other all the time. Almond (Turner) went to a birthday party for a family member and got shot.
“You remember the Locust Grove Police officer killed (Officer Chase Maddox, killed Feb. 9, 2018). The only thing he was doing was assisting Henry County Code Enforcement and some deputies because the guy kept parking his tractor-trailer truck in a residential neighborhood. That’s one of the issues we deal with here, too.
“So I understand the optics of it, but I also understand what went into the planning behind it,” Cotton continued. “The marshals are not part of the police department, but are the enforcement arm of the courts; mainly not for code enforcement, but for the demolition of the houses. I think they’ve done a tremendous job taking care of some of those abandoned homes.”
Councilwoman Susie Keck said she felt Andrews’ proposal is a good one.
“I think your idea of hiring somebody just for code enforcement who is not a marshal is great idea,” she said. “And if there is an abandoned house that needs to be checked, then the marshal goes, because the marshal has a gun.”
Councilwoman Fleeta Baggett noted that it is all in how city marshals carry themselves.
“It depends on who knocks on your door and their demeanor,” she said. “If they come in with tactical gear and their hand on their gun, it throws the whole vibe off. I think a lot of what has happened with this has depended on who knocked on their door.”