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Town Manager Suspended Before He Can Swear In Black Police Chief

March 17, 1987

CHADBOURN, N.C. (AP) _ A white town manager who planned to appoint a black police chief to head the community’s all-white force has been suspended without pay by the town council.

Steve Wyatt was suspended Monday night on a 3-2 vote by the Chadbourn Town Council, a day before he planned to swear in Acting Police Chief Kelly Rogers as the full-time chief.

About a third of the approximately 2,000 residents in this eastern North Carolina town are black.

Council member Bobby Tedder, who is white, introduced the motion to suspend Wyatt ″until further notice″ because of comments the town manager made in a story published last week in the Wilmington Morning Star.

Wyatt told the newspaper that his choice to replace former Police Chief A.L. Williamson would anger some council members, and hinted he might be fired when he announced his choice.

Wyatt, who has been town manager since November 1984, did not need council approval to hire a chief. He said earlier that he had planned to advise members of his choice.

There was no answer Tuesday either at Wyatt’s office or home telephone numbers.

Rogers, a seven-year department veteran, has been acting chief since Williamson quit Feb. 27. He said Tuesday that he did not know if, or when, he would be given the full-time job.

″There’ll be a lot of people disappointed and I’ll be the most disappointed of all, but I can live with it,″ Rogers said about the chance he would not get the job.

Mayor Dick Tyler and black council members C.W. Williams and Joe Evans opposed the suspension, but white members Ruby Spivey and F.M. Carroll backed Tedder’s motion. The mayor does not have a vote.

″Railroading someone in a manner like this, it’s utterly ridiculous,″ Williams said after the meeting. ″You know what the root of the whole thing is.″

Williams said Tuesday that the budget allows for six officers, but the department is understaffed with only three white officers and Rogers.

Tyler said Rogers was the obvious choice among five other applicants for the chief’s job.

″The problem is he’s black,″ Evans said.

Carroll and Ms. Spivey said nothing during the debate, and Ms. Spivey would not comment as she left the meeting.

″I would not be against hiring him back,″ Carroll said.

A special meeting was scheduled for Wednesday night to discuss the matter.

Wyatt did not speak during the meeting. After the vote, he left the council table without a word and walked out of the municipal building.

Earlier this year, an application by a black man to join the then all-white Chadbourn Volunteer Fire Department was rejected.

Greg Freeman, 21, filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging the action was racially motivated.

The council, which has jurisdiction over the volunteer department, agreed Jan. 15 to set up a grievance committee to hear appeals from rejected applicants. The department has since accepted a black member.

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