PIEDMONT – On the night in which the Piedmont City Council promoted Nathan Johnson as its new full-time police chief, local resident Cody Spoon made remarks to the council Tuesday evening concerning the city’s former police chief, Freddie Norton.
Norton abruptly announced his retirement as police chief back in June amid an investigation. He served the city for over 26 years, with the last 6 ½ years as police chief.
“I think it spoke volumes when the council remained silent on Tuesday, July 20 after Chief Norton made his statement (following an investigation),” Spoon said. “All of you had the opportunity to address his years of service to this city and none of you chose to say a word.
“Chief Norton dedicated over 26 years of his life to the service of the citizens of this city. He had opportunities to leave. I’m certain those opportunities offered more pay and better benefits, yet he chose to stay. He chose to continue to protect and serve the town he loves. I stand here today disappointed in the lack of leadership in this city and heartbroken for the citizens of this city due to the lack of leadership. A great man was forced out. He had plans to retire, but not in this manner.
“Make no mistake about it, Chief Norton is not corrupt. He did not break the law. He did not commit acts of misconduct. He did not do anything immoral or unethical. Let’s make that clear on the record. After being treated with such disrespect, dishonesty and deceitful practices, no one in Chief Norton’s position would want to return and work for a group who treats some of their employees this way.”
Spoon encouraged other Piedmont citizens to question the council concerning Norton’s departure.
“You pay your taxes and you pay for municipal services. The police department is a municipal service. You have every right to know why a dedicated and loyal city employee was forced to retire or be fired,” Spoon said. “I want to thank Chief Norton for his service, and I also want to say congratulations to the new chief, Nathan Johnson, who was appointed tonight.”
Spoon then questioned the council, asking its members when the city planned to make a full statement regarding everything that was found during its investigation against Norton.
“Personally, I’m not going to discuss any personnel issues involving any employee,” Mayor Bill Baker said. “We don’t discuss what happens when somebody …”
“That’s fine Bill, but why are councilmen doing it when they’re not on the record?” Spoon interrupted. “I know that for a fact. I have proof of that if we want to go that far.”
Baker said he would hope that would all be confidential.
“It’s not. It’s being talked about,” Spoon responded. “If councilmen are going to go out and insinuate things, or they’re going to say some of the stuff in those letters is borderline illegal, you can’t say stuff like that. You can’t send messages to people and insinuate things.”
Baker replied: “What happened in the council with the chief, that should be a private matter. That shouldn’t be discussed publicly. I don’t know about that. I’m not hearing it. If you say it’s happening, I’m not disputing you. I’m saying I’m not going to give a statement. I wish him the best of luck.”
Spoon argued the city forced Norton out, to which Baker disagreed.
“He was forced out,” Spoon continued. “That’s why there was backtracking a week later and we went through the whole dog and pony show about we’ve got to go into an emergency meeting in executive session.”
Baker held firm that he would not discuss personnel matters publicly.
“That’s just how I feel,” he said. “The rest of you (referring to the other council members) can voice your opinion on the subject if you want to.”
“If we say anything, if we said what was the truth, you’d call us a liar. I really don’t see what else we can say that would help, one way or another,” District 2 councilman Richard Williams said.
Spoon responded: “There’s been a whole lot of lying going on, I can tell you that much.”
“If you can tell me what I lied about, tell me,” Williams said.
Baker asked if any other council members had anything to say.
“Things like that have to be kept confidential,” District 6 councilman David Ivey said. “When you talk about people’s personal lives, whatever, it’s our duty to keep it confidential.”
“There are laws that keep that confidential,” District 4 councilman Caleb Pope added.
Spoon then brought up the city employee handbook.
“There’s a lot of things in there that were bypassed in order to get to the point where Chief Norton was forced out. Anyone have any comment on that?”
“You keep using that word forced out. He retired,” Baker said.
“He’s retired. That’s what he says. He chose to retire,” Pope reiterated. “The steps in the city handbook weren’t followed because he chose to retire.”
Spoon then questioned how Norton and the council got to that point.
“There has to be steps to get to the point for there to be a disciplinary action,” Spoon said.
“He chose to retire,” Pope said again. “Had he chose not to retire, then …”
“There wasn’t a disciplinary action? So he wasn’t put on administrative leave?,” Spoon interjected.
“That’s not a disciplinary action. He never loses a dime. He was still the police chief,” Pope replied.
“He was put on administrative leave,” Spoon countered. “There’s nothing in that? There’s no disciplinary action? Not being able to step foot in the police department, not being able to do his job, that’s not disciplinary at all.”
“Nope,” Pope replied.
“It’s in the book that it is,” Spoon said. “It’s actually in the employee handbook. It’s one of those things as a city council you probably want to read it every now and then. It’s in black and white.”
Spoon then left the podium.