Emotions were high at the September meeting of the Hamlet City Council on Tuesday night as a crowd of people packed into City Hall to protest the firing of former Hamlet Police Chief John Haywood.
Haywood was dismissed from his position last Friday, but Hamlet Mayor Jeff Smart declined to give an explanation of the police chief’s termination at the meeting.
“There are certain things the law doesn’t require us to talk about, including a personnel issue such as this,” Smart said in the meeting. “North Carolina General Statute does allow me and (council members) to express why termination takes place. Personally, out of respect for John Haywood, that will not be done … out of respect for him, out of respect for his family, and out of respect for his future employers.
“If John wants that out, it’s up to him … ,” he said. “I’m not happy that this happened while I am mayor … There is nobody else in this world that wants him to be police chief more than me, but sometimes we have to make difficult decisions, and that one has been made. We had a personal discussion about it, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Several phone messages left for Haywood by the Daily Journal on Tuesday were not returned, including one made late after the city council meeting.
During the meeting, several members of the community spoke out about the issue.
Bill Horne approached the microphone and said he was extremely dismayed and disappointed at how things have gone down.
“For four years I sat on that side of the table,” Horne said as he addressed council members, “so I know how it feels. But I do not care for the way this situation has transpired, with the dismissal of Officer Veach and Chief Haywood … There is no way this could not have been handled a different way. Somebody has got to step up, show some backbone and do the right thing.”
The council also heard from former chief Haywood’s brother, Matthew Haywood.
“I just want him to have his job back,” Matthew said. “He’s a good man and he’s done so much for Richmond County. I don’t know what happened or why he got fired, but I just want him to have his job back.”
Just before the council motioned to go into a closed session, Hannah Haywood Richardson, the former chief’s sister, approached the microphone. Richardson emotionally expressed her disappointment and accused Mayor Smart of lying about having a personal discussion with her brother, to which Smart confirmed that he indeed had.
Tension was high for the next few moments as Richardson and Smart continued to speak over one another loudly before Richardson eventually spoke her final words, turned and exited the room.
Later during the meeting, City Manager Marchell David announced that Captain Amery Griffin has been appointed as the Acting Chief for the Hamlet Police Department.
“The City of Hamlet will not have a lapse in coverage,” David said in response to a safety concern voiced by an earlier attendee. “Public safety will not be affected.”
Just prior to going into closed session, the Daily Journal asked Smart who was responsible for firing Haywood. His answer: the city manager.
In other action, the board:
• Heard from several city members in the Beelar Avenue and Briarwood area who expressed concerns about their neighborhood’s safety due to dangerous dogs, rock damage and broken curbs. Residents requested that the area be monitored by law enforcement more frequently, and that some action be taken on sidewalk construction in the area.
• Recognized Boy Scout Troop 527 of Fellowship United Methodist Church, which attended the council meeting to help earn a communications badge.
• Heard from Cynthia Carter with Legal Aid of North Carolina who announced that two new local attorneys will be working to tackle rural poverty in Richmond County. Legal Aid Staff Attorney David Richardson introduced Kaitlyn A. Girard and Meghan Melo to the council and community members in attendance.
• Heard a Mayoral Proclamation read by Smart in remembrance of famous jazz musician John Coltrane, who was born in Hamlet.
• Acknowledged a Mayoral Proclamation by Smart of Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance for those who sacrificed or lost their lives after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
— Staff Writer Mallory Brown can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.