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Town of Unicoi BMA approves creation of police department

The Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the creation of a police force for the town on Monday, July 15. Pictured from left, Alderwoman Wanda Wilson Radford, Vice Mayor Doug Hopson, Mayor Johnny Lynch, Alderman Jeff Linville and Alderwoman Kathy Bullen. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Town of Unicoi moved one step further to establishing a police department.

On Monday, July 15, the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 4-1 to approve a resolution to create the police department. Vice Mayor Doug Hopson, Mayor Johnny Lynch, Alderwoman Wanda Radford and Alderman Jeff Linville voted to approve the resolution following a motion from Linville and a second by Hopson. Alderwoman Kathy Bullen was the sole vote against the resolution.

During Monday’s meeting, Bullen questioned if Sunshine Laws were broken by the Town of Unicoi in seeking the resolution. Sunshine Laws state that a law requires certain proceedings of government agencies to be open or available to the public.

“This sounds like a lot of work was done before we had an official vote on this matter,” Bullen said. “I find it odd we have a police cruiser in the parking lot of town hall before we vote on a resolution to pursue a police officer.”

Interim City Recorder Larry Rea disagreed with Bullen.

“The official purchase of the cruiser will occur only after the resolution passes,” Rea said.

Hopson, who seconded the request to approve the resolution and voted to approve the resolution calling for establishing a police force, addressed the public of why he approved the resolution.

“We are not just doing this for a speed trap,” Hopson said. “We are trying to get an officer to enforce ordinances. We want to clean up these dilapidated buildings.”

No citizens signed up to speak at the meeting either in favor of or in opposition to the police department. According to Lynch, the Town of Unicoi is currently accepting applications and will start the interviewing process for the police officer in the coming weeks.

“There is no set time frame,” Lynch said. “We still have a few things to work out. After we hire an officer we will need to make sure that we can get established on the Unicoi County 911 dispatch’s frequency.”

The Town of Unicoi budgeted $101,928 to fund a full-time police officer and cruiser for the town in the proposed 2019-20 budget.

“I will work with them just like we work with the Town of Erwin,” Sheriff Mike Hensley told The Erwin Record on Monday. “We are in this together. I’m short-handed as it is, so the more officers we have, the better.”

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In a final order of business on Monday, the BMA voted unanimously to approve a bid of $38,194.66 from KaTom, a restaurant supply company, to purchase a dough shooter, bread slicer, various processors, storage units and shelving for coolers to be used at the Mountain Harvest Kitchen.