Sweezer quits Civil Service on heels of judge’s ruling

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 9, 2004

[7/7/04]Vicksburg officials accepted the resignation Tuesday of the Civil Service Commission member a judge has ruled cannot hear disciplinary cases brought by the police chief.

Linda Sweezer, who served on the review panel for nearly seven years, is also pastor of the church Police Chief Tommy Moffett attends. Warren County Circuit Judge Frank Vollor ruled last month in the appeal of two cases that creates the appearance of a potential conflict of interest.

Because the commission has only three members and one of those is a retired police officer who has been asked to recuse himself from cases involving officers he worked with, the panel has had to postpone all disciplinary cases since the court’s order.

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“We are appealing that (Vollor’s) decision to the Supreme Court of Mississippi, but in the interim we have to have a Civil Service Commission,” said City Attorney Nancy Thomas.

Thomas said she also sought an official opinion from the Attorney General’s Office, but was told the city cannot appoint alternate commission members or make a temporary appointment.

Vollor’s order that Sweezer should have recused herself came in the appeal of the firing of Officer Gary Cooper.

Cooper was first suspended and then discharged by Moffett for arresting a 19-year-old accused of violating the city ban on loud music and later releasing the teen without filing a charge. That, Moffett said, violated his “zero tolerance” directive for loud music.

At the same time, Sgt. Randy Blake, Cooper’s immediate superior, was suspended for three days for not taking action against Cooper. Vollor also ruled that Sweezer needed to recuse herself from that case.

Commissioners are appointed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to set standards for police and firefighter performance and to hear appeals of disciplinary matters. Their role is to assure that all job actions are related to job performance and not influenced by politics or favoritism.

City officials did not say when they expect to replace Sweezer.

“Linda (Sweezer) has always been a person who was fair,” said North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young. “She always treated everyone equally because she loves this community.”

Young also alluded to the possibility of the city board asking Sweezer to serve on one of the city’s other volunteer boards.

Vollor’s ruling and the commission’s decision to postpone disciplinary appeals does not mean the city cannot fire civil service employees. It only means that those employees, all of whom are in the fire or police departments, will have no course for appeal until the matter is resolved.

Vollor ruled that state law says an objective standard applies in recusal cases, meaning the question is not whether Sweezer thought she could be impartial, but whether her role as Moffett’s pastor created the appearance of a conflict. The same rule applies to judges.

Lamar Horton, director of human resources for the city, said that until the Civil Service Commission is able to reconsider his firing, Cooper will remain off the force.