An unexpected change in leadership is being blamed for a number of resignations within the Creola Police Department, with more than half the town’s sworn officers resigning just before a new mayor and police chief took office.
As of Nov. 7, Creola Police Chief Jerry Taylor, Assistant Chief Garry Davis, officers Kenneth Thomas and Shaun Wood and a police dispatcher had submitted their resignations to the Creola City Council, and reportedly at least one other officer is considering following them.
While the resignation of six employees and four sworn officers may not affect cities the size of Mobile or even Foley, Creola has fewer than 2,000 residents and employs only seven full-time officers. The unusually high turnover seems to have been sparked by the August municipal elections, when voters chose a new mayor and three new City Council members.
“I was late on submitting my paperwork, but it’s nobody’s fault. I’ve been doing it for 30-something years, and I just forgot,” outgoing Mayor Don Nelson said. “There’s no doubt in my mind I would have won the election, but this technicality kept me from being on the ballot.”
Nelson failed to file a statement of economic interest with the Alabama Ethics Commission when he qualified to run for what would have been his fifth term as the mayor of Creola.
As a result, Bill Criswell — the only name that made it onto the ballot — became mayor. Criswell didn’t take office until Monday, Nov. 7, but several changes occurred just prior to then that seem to have started with the resignation of Taylor and his assistant chief.
Davis and Taylor have already accepted positions as police chiefs in Mt. Vernon and Jackson, respectively. Then last week, Wood and Thomas followed suit, resigning to take jobs in Chickasaw and Mobile, respectively, despite having worked in Creola for the majority of the past decade.“There may be an underlying current for why they’re doing it, though, because Creola is probably the second lowest-paying police department in the county,” Nelson said. “I hate to say it, but they were here for a reason.”
Taylor said he was happy with the prior administration and would have been happy with the new administration, but the opportunity in Jackson was “a good career move.” The other outgoing officers who spoke with Lagniappe declined to comment on their reasons for leaving.
However, multiple sources indicated the changing leadership in the department and the city was a motivating factor.
While Criswell said he believes most of the officers left to take better-paying positions in larger cities, he also said he met with the police force prior taking office to discuss his plans for the department.
“I was asked by Chief [Taylor] to come sit down and talk with the guys because some of them had some questions,” Criswell said. “I talked with them, and basically, I told them, ‘We appreciate you guys.’ Will there be some changes? Sure there will. There always is.”
According to Criswell, changes will likely involve additional training in areas where the department had previously been lacking. He also said he plans to use the city’s auxiliary officers to cut back on what he said has been “a large amount of overtime” at the department.
However, Criswell maintained all of the officers had “done a great job” for Creola.
Before he took office, Criswell told Lagniappe the city was reviewing a number of applicants for the position of chief, but at the time it was widely known Rick Daves — a former officer who still works for the city part time — was going to be named as Taylor’s replacement.
At the time, Daves had already taken home a city vehicle typically used by the police chief, though he says he’d only done so because it needed minor repairs and he’d gotten approval from Nelson and Criswell before doing so. After officially taking the position this week, Daves was much more candid about why some of Creola’s officers might have chosen to leave prior to his appointment, saying that with the exception of Taylor “the crew that left wasn’t worth anything as it was.”
“Many of them didn’t like me and they resigned because they’ve had free range. When you’ve not written one ticket in six months, what does that mean? It means you aren’t working,” Daves said. “Jerry Taylor is one of the best chiefs we’ve ever had, but they took advantage of him being a good person and did things you’re not supposed to. I told them, ‘those days are stopping,’ and they couldn’t stand it.”
Daves described himself as “professional” and said he would “enforce the law” in Creola without favoritism. However, he also said he plans to do things “the right way” and will make things “better for the people of Creola.”
Even with a chief in place, though, Creola will still need to find replacements for at least three officers and a police dispatcher through a Mobile County Personnel Board that’s known for lengthy hiring processes.
Criswell, however, said he believes the city will be in capable hands in the interim because of the “qualified auxiliary officers” that will be able to take up some of the slack. He also said Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran has agreed to send in his deputies if it becomes necessary.
Finally, Criswell said Taylor was leaving the Creola Police Department in “good shape,” and pointed out that the City Council had accepted all of the department’s recent resignations in good standing — many of whom will be staying on to help with the transition through Nov. 18.
“They’re leaving on good terms, and we have no animosity or anything toward any of them,” Criswell said. “We’re just trying to get a smooth transition. Mayor [Nelson] is working on it, Chief Taylor is working on it, and we’re working with them.”