The Huntsville City Police Department has new leadership after the city council approved the appointment of Kirk Giles to take over as police chief despite some objections from council members.
Giles was nominated for the position by Mayor Tommy Battle after serving as interim chief since March 4. The council postponed voting on the matter during its November 17 meeting so that council member Jennie Robison, who was absent, could be involved in the decision.
On Thursday, the council voted 3-0 to approve Giles, with City Council president John Meredith and councilman Devyn Keith abstaining.
Before the vote, Meredith and Keith spoke at length about their concerns over how the new chief was chosen. Both considered the process to be unfair and potentially discriminatory against "people of color" and women.
"I don't like this term, that there is a process. But rather maybe is a practice," Keith said. "We do not have a very diverse police department; we have a more diverse police department... To have a leader at the helm, who I think is going to be great, we must be aware that any future steps forward to decide who leads this community, who leads the men and women do the Huntsville Police Department, must be a consideration of all. Nobody should be fearful to ever state their sexual orientation. Nobody should be fearful to ever make a step forward because of the color of their skin or their gender or their socioeconomic standing."
Both Keith and Meredith clarified their objections were not necessarily to Giles as a candidate but to what they saw as a lack of a formal and fair process in choosing the new chief.
Mayor Battle said that of the 60 appointments he's made, four were from outside sources. Three of those ended up having to be filled with a local, internal hire, he said.
Meredith, who at one point said Giles was the "best candidate" for the position, took issue with not only the appointment process but also how the mayor announced the new chief before the council took a vote.
"I have to admit that I am disappointed in this council for its perceived willingness to abandon their role as an independent, co-equal branch of government," Meredith stated. "… In that capacity, and in an attempt to highlight the city's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), a majority of the council asked for a transparent process for the appointment of a new police chief… It was a golden opportunity to show The Star of Alabama's commitment to inclusivity for people of color and women … In a stark contrast to our public declaration in support of DEI, this particular appointment is a step backwards and signals to people of color, women and those living what some call alternative lifestyles that their local government is not serious about the pursuit of DEI.
"Everyone in this council should be greatly offended that the public was informed the appointment was a done deal before the council even voted on it," Meredith added. "This implicit shirking of our responsibility paints the council as subordinate to the administration and not a co-equal, independent branch of government. We must do better moving forward."
Councilman Bill Kling responded to Meredith, saying that "as one of those rubberstamped members of the city council," he disagreed with the council president's comments. Kling added that he has regularly contradicted and held accountable the mayor's administration.
"We have very qualified people," the mayor said moments before the vote. "We're very lucky to have those qualified people that we have out there. And we're going to choose the person who we think is best for the city of Huntsville, and that's my job to do."
Eleven members of the public spoke during the meeting, each lending their support for making Giles, a 45-year police veteran, the permanent chief.
One of those speakers was former HPD chief and current Alabama House Representative Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville), who said, "I just stand here in support of Kirk Giles. Again I commend the mayor and this council for staying within [the department]. That reinforces to every commander and low-level police officer that I can work hard, I can work on my education, go back and get higher education, and I've got a shot to be top chief in Huntsville, Alabama."
The council also approved two other appointments: Tara Sloan as director of cemeteries and Nicholas NeNe as director of traffic engineering.
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