Paint Rock to abolish municipal court; police chief resigns

Published: Feb. 26, 2014 at 3:26 AM CST|Updated: Mar. 25, 2014 at 8:16 PM CDT
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Many people attended the council meeting to learn the fate of the town's municipal court.
Many people attended the council meeting to learn the fate of the town's municipal court.
Some residents fear disbanding the court will lead to the same fate for the town police...
Some residents fear disbanding the court will lead to the same fate for the town police department.

PAINT ROCK, AL (WAFF) - The town of Paint Rock in Jackson County voted to disband its municipal court system Tuesday night.

The decision was not without opposition; some residents went into the meeting intending to band together and present a large voice at Tuesday night's meeting about the issue. They wanted the town council to leave their court and police department alone.

The Paint Rock Town Council got the ball rolling earlier in February when they asked the city attorney to begin paperwork that would disband the court system.

Residents said they're being told the reason for the disbanding is because the town cannot afford it. Those same residents said it looks more about the mayor's son than money.

The mayor's son is Joseph Lance Nevels, who pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of harassing communications and DUI. The charges stem from two separate incidents this month in which he threatened a Paint Rock police officer and the police chief.

The felony charges came just weeks after Nevels was arrested by the department in January on charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, indecent exposure, and theft charges. It was after this initial arrest that Police Chief Billy Wilson said talk began about disbanding the court and police department.

Shortly after the meeting began, Mayor Jane Nevels handed proceedings to Councilwoman Betty Putnam, citing conflict of interest. Putnam explained to the residents why the court system needed to be shut down: "As far as the town affording it, we can't."

The council then voted to abolish the court system and received a surprise from Police Chief Billy Wilson.

"The recent events that have taken place since the arrest of the mayor's son has caused an inability to communicate efffectively with the mayor and town council," Wilson said.

With that, Wilson submitted his resignation, effective March 11. Another officer also submitted a resignation, citing a strained working relationship with the town's mayor.

City attorney Stephen Kennamer said the courts could be shut down in 90 days, and he would look into what could be done about the police department. Wilson told the group without the city court system, the money in fines would go to the county. "Realistically if you don't have your court system, you're not going to be able to afford a police department," he said.

A copy of the court's financial records (PDF) shows a profit each and every month since 2012. As of last week, they show a balance of just over $29,000. So why is the town saying they can't afford it?

"We had an auditor come in and he is the one that told us that it was not cost-effective," said Putnam.

The city attorney is expected to come back on March 18 with his official recommendations about the future of the town's police force.

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