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Changing the law: Grayson police ask for amendment to nepotism rules

By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

 Police officers representing the City of Grayson Police Department came out for the August meeting of Grayson City Council to ask the city to consider amending their rules to allow acting Chief of Police, Travis Steele, to be hired into the job permanently. The police had asked previously to have their new chief hired from inside the department, rather than going outside the department to find a new leader. In the interim Steele, the son of Grayson Mayor George Steele, has been serving as the acting chief. The police were back in August to put their support behind Steele taking over the Chief position permanently. 

“We all feel that way as a group,” Sgt. Tony Cantrell, serving as a spokesman for the department, told council while numerous other officers from the department stood in a line against the wall behind him. 

“He’s, by far, earned it,” Cantrell continued, noting not only Steele’s education and degrees in law enforcement but his calm leadership during recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) rallies and armed counter-protests. 

Mayor George Steele said the decision on whether he would be allowed to proceed with hiring his son into the position would be up to council. But, he asked, “Why shouldn’t my children, or yours, be allowed to apply?” 

Roger Dunfee, Emergency Management Director, also spoke in favor of Steele, noting that he is the third police chief he has worked with during his time with Emergency Management. 

“We’ve had more cooperation from him than any of the other chiefs we’ve had,” Dunfee told council. 

City attorney Jason Greer said he would look into what changes needed made to the city ordinances to allow the mayor to hire Travis Steele into the position permanently, and would return with the suggested amendment for council’s approval at their next meeting. 

Council also discussed the previous weekend’s BLM rally. Organizer Dee Garrett was not there for that rally, having been arrested in Louisville the day before on various charges, including rioting first degree. That rally, Mayor Steele noted, was peaceful and productive, with BLM opening communications with counter-protesters. 

Backing up to the previous two rallies, Mayor Steele said he had “never seen a department work the way this department has the last few weeks to keep our town from burning down.” 

He said he had also been asked recently if Grayson had “a racial problem.” 

“We don’t have a racial problem (in Grayson),” he said. “The only thing we want is, if people come in and live among us, we want them to help us build this town, not tear it down.” 

He said that there were nearly “3000” individuals with assault rifles in town the first weekend of counter-protests, and there “wasn’t a half-dozen from the city of Grayson.” 

“They come from everywhere,” Steele said. 

Daylena Gilbert, a Grayson resident who was on the agenda to ask council to consider changing laws related to keeping chickens in town, disagreed with some of what the mayor said, however. 

“Grayson may not be racist,” Gilbert said. “But there are people coming through Grayson disrupting the peace. I will say this, the way the kids from the college have been treated is absurd. The way that my step-father, who is black, has been treated is absurd.” 

Gilbert said people drive past his home and yell racial slurs at him. She said she didn’t have a problem with the police, as some BLM demonstrators do, but she has seen racism in Grayson. 

An officer present at the meeting asked Gilbert if she had video of her step-father’s harassment, and she said she did not, but swore “as a Christian woman” that they had experienced the racism she described. 

In addition to asking about changing the city’s laws concerning chickens, Gilbert also asked the city to consider passing a version of Breonna’s Law, which would ban no-knock warrants in the city. Council told her they would take both issues under advisement and look at how other city’s handled both issues. 

In other action council accepted department reports, including reports from the police department asking for permission to purchase equipment for use during protests, noting they have been borrowing shields and helmets from other departments for those events. They also discussed repairs to police automobiles and approvals under retired chief Kevin McDavid for the purchase of body cameras, car cameras and a portable drug incinerator that the department never purchased despite council’s approval. Acting Chief Steele said he would research the current cost of those items and return to council with the amounts. 

The street department noted that there will be no additional blacktopping until spring of next year, due to the COVID-19 crisis. However the department does have materials needed for doing patch work, if needed, until paving can begin again next spring. 

Council also moved unanimously to adopt a resolution annexing property on the south side of town, and entered into the first reading of two ordinances trading city property for property owned by Mike and Cynde Akers. 

Council held their meeting behind closed doors, due to COVID-19 restrictions, and streamed the meeting to Facebook Live to comply with Kentucky’s open-meeting requirements. Video of the full August 11 meeting can be found online at the Grayson City Facebook page or linked at the Carter County Times Facebook page. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com.

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