PIEDMONT – News broke on social media late Tuesday afternoon that Piedmont Police Chief Freddie Norton was abruptly retiring on Aug. 1. His last day at the department was Tuesday, shortly before the Piedmont City Council gathered for its regular meeting.
The announcement was made on Norton’s personal Facebook page. He posted there wasn’t any type of scandal or wrongdoing from him or anyone else in the police department, and that it was strictly a decision by Mayor Bill Baker and the members of the city council.
Norton said he accepted their decision, but did not agree with it.
“I’ve enjoyed my 26-plus years as a police officer in the City of Piedmont and especially being the Chief of Police the last 6 1/2 years,” part of Norton’s post read. “I can walk away with my head held high because I know in my heart the job that I’ve done and the things that I’ve accomplished as an officer and chief have been done the right way. I want to thank everyone in this community for your support.”
At its meeting on Tuesday evening, none of the council members brought up Norton’s retirement until local citizen Cody Spoon questioned the council about it toward the end of the meeting.
“I’d like to inquire about the termination of Chief Norton,” Spoon began. “Was there misconduct by Chief Norton?”
“There was no termination of Chief Norton,” District 4 Councilman Caleb Pope said. “Chief Norton retired.”
Spoon replied, “He was asked to step down. Was it because of misconduct?”
“That’s a personnel issue,” Pope said.
Added District 1 Councilman John Lawrence: “We can’t discuss personnel.”
Spoon asked, “So we don’t know why the chief got terminated?” Baker then said, “He can tell you.”
Spoon questioned, “So the council can’t?”
“The council is not going to discuss the good name and character of any city employee, present or past,” Pope responded.
“Not going to discuss or can’t discuss?” Spoon inquired.
“We cannot do that,” replied Pope. “I can’t say anything about your character. I can’t say anything about any character or anything about a current or former city employee.”
“So did most of the voters that you represent want him gone?” Spoon asked.
“He’s appointed by the council. He’s not an elected official,” Pope replied.
“I know he’s not,” Spoon said.
“If you don’t like it, don’t vote for the people who are up here next time, OK? We cannot discuss personnel matters,” Pope said.
Shortly after Spoon returned to his seat, Pope addressed the policemen who were present at the meeting, including interim chief Nathan Johnson.
“Guys, ya’ll continue the outstanding work. I know today was a rough day, a lot of change, but ya’ll will do the right thing. We’ve been impressed by you,” Pope said.
In his closing comments, Baker also commended the officers.
“Nathan is the interim chief. We want to ask him to continue to serve the city like he has in the past, along with the other officers. We look forward to having (newly-hired) Officer (Josh) Parker on board. I think you’ll find Piedmont to be a great city to work in. I know you will serve us well.”
Following the meeting’s adjournment, WEIS Radio asked Baker for additional comment. Baker referred WEIS to Norton.
Norton, who wasn’t in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, responded to WEIS shortly after being contacted.
“I was told by the mayor and city clerk this morning that the mayor and city council as a whole had decided that I could retire effective immediately or they would vote to remove me,” Norton said.
When asked if he was given a reason, Norton responded, “Yes, but that is on them to explain.”
Norton went on to thank the citizens of Piedmont for their support of him and his department through the years.
“I had people stop me daily thanking me for the job I was doing as the chief, and it meant a lot to be the chief in my hometown. I never wanted to be anywhere else,” Norton said. “Crime in Piedmont was lower than it has ever been and the numbers back it up. It hurts right now, but it’ll be good for me at the end of the day.
“I can hold my head up high knowing I did things the right way.”
In other action from Tuesday’s meeting, a special liquor license was approved for Dave and Michelle Cook, owners of Shell’s Downtown restaurant.
The council heard updates from Recreation Director Jeff Formby on the planned July 4 racing events within the city that are in conjunction with the Noble Street Classic in Anniston, and the Piedmont Sports Complex lighting project.
“They’ll start that morning at 8 o’clock,” Formby said of the races. “It’ll start under the red light at the gazebo. It’ll go down Ladiga, turn left onto Church, go up to Hood, take a left and go over to Center Avenue, take a left and then back. It’s just a circular course. We’ve tried to limit as many problems as we could, as far as it bothering businesses, but we’ve done pretty good with it.
“We’ve got some residents that it will affect them getting in and out, but we’ll work with them and do the best we can. I’m going to try and personally contact them and let them know about it. We’ll probably shut the roads down in downtown probably about 7:30 that morning. Parts of town will probably be closed until probably 3 o’clock, depending on weather and how long it takes to run these races. We’ll try to shrink down as much as we can as the race ends.”
Formby also said he appreciated Shell’s and Elevated Grounds for being open that day to serve the public. He also said there will be other vendors and entertainment downtown to help celebrate the occasion.
“It’s the first race we’ve done of this design and this type of race, so it’s going to be a learning experience on our part too,” he said.
Concerning the sports complex lighting, Formby said he had contacted East Alabama Planning Commission about grants for such projects and heard back from them last week.
“They are opening up that grant window in July,” Formby said. “They requested some information about cost, labor cost, equipment cost, to try and get the application started to apply for the grant and see if we get accepted for the grant. Then we’ll go from there.
“If it goes through and we are accepted for the grant, then the process will change a little bit. We’ll have to do bid packets and that sort of thing. The first step was to get some cost analysis in to them, get some paperwork done and get the grant applied for. That’s where we are on that for now.
“The numbers I was sent was roughly about $325,000 for parts and about $150-$160,000 for labor. I know we talked about piecemealing it out, if that’s what we needed to do, but they wanted to turn in for the entire grant, for the entire project, just to see where that goes and see if that was accepted. If we have to drop down and do a portion and split it, then we’d look at it that way.”
The council also approved four resolutions, all dealing with grass cuttings at the following locations: 105 Williams Street, 407 North Center Avenue, 217 Anniston Avenue and 108 Memorial Drive.
Interim Police Chief Johnson gave reports from the police department as well as animal control and abatement.
For the month of May, the Piedmont Police Department made 81 felony arrests, 19 misdemeanor arrests, three DUI arrests, 20 drug arrests, six crimes against persons arrests, no theft arrests, 33 court/warrant arrests, and 17 arrests for other agencies.
Under traffic, 30 citations were written, eight accident reports were filed, and 38 motorists were assisted.
Under crime, there was one violent crime reported, no burglaries, six thefts, 14 cases investigated and 112 incident reports taken.
There was a total of 425 calls for service, 1,231 officer-initiated total contacts with the public, which includes motorist assists.
Dispatch received 626 rescue calls, including 38 calls for Piedmont Fire Department. There was a total of 2,322 calls that came into dispatch.
Court collections totaled $23,138.47.
In animal control for May, there were 11 calls for service and no court cases. Eighteen animals were picked up, with four were taken to the shelter and 14 reclaimed by the owner.
Under abatement for May, there were 47 total cases (new and ongoing), 22 yard cases, no new house cases, 22 total new cases, 30 cases being processed, 27 cases completed and compliant, two contracts on structures, one court appearance, and two verbal contracts.
Johnson also introduced Officer Parker to the council. He said Parker has been in law enforcement for 15 years. He worked for state probations for nine years, and worked for the Cherokee County jail, where he was a supervisor in the correction facility.
Parker also did some deputy work as well in Cherokee County.
Johnson also recognized several other officers in attendance, including Curtis Parker, Lee Terry, Brian Kirk and Liam Giddy.
Minutes were also approved by the council from its last meeting, as were bills for payment totaling $325,964.45.
The next city council meeting is scheduled for July 6.
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