Muscle Shoals AL March 11 2012 Local law enforcement authorities said they left Friday afternoon’s meeting with the vice president of Tennessee Valley Authority security feeling they had just been threatened.
Law enforcement agencies in the Shoals have been asked to assist with responding to emergencies and reports of crimes on TVA property, now that the federal utility has drastically reduced its security operation.
Local authorities met with David Jolley, TVA’s vice president of police and security Friday, to further discuss the issue. And many voiced frustration and concern when they left the meeting at Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville.
“It was strongly emphasized that if we don’t or could not patrol TVA property that the in lieu of tax money that comes to this area would be re-evaluated,” Tuscumbia Police Chief Tony Logan said following the nearly three-hour meeting.
“To me, that’s being threatened,” added Sheffield Police Chief Greg Ray.
Representatives from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies throughout north Alabama attended the meeting.
TVA announced two weeks ago it would be eliminate 61 patrol officers, including six supervisors. Six positions in the Shoals are being eliminated, leaving the area with three TVA security employees. TVA plans to use contract security officers to partially offset the losses.
With 2,600 acres on TVA’s Muscle Shoals Reservation and hundreds of acres of TVA property along the Tennessee River in the Shoals, news that patrols were being cut caught local authorities off guard and left them wondering if they would have to patrol what TVA is not patrolling.
Jolley said TVA did not want to be a burden on local authorities, but added they could ask for their help as they have been for years.
Colbert County Commissioner Rex Burleson asked Jolley what would happen if local authorities refused or would not patrol TVA property.
Jolley’s response, according to those in the room, involved the possibility of TVA reviewing the in lieu of tax money that now comes to governments throughout the agency’s seven-state area.
According to TVA records, the agency paid nearly $116 million in lieu of taxes to Alabama in 2011, which includes more than $6 million each to Lauderdale and Colbert counties.
“I don’t think they can do that, but I took it as a threat,” Burleson said.
Colbert County Sheriff Ronnie May said his department does not have the manpower to patrol the TVA-owned property in the county that is outside the reservation.
“I have not changed my stance, which is we will not patrol those areas,” May said.
Much of the meeting between the more than 50 law enforcement representatives and TVA was held after reporters were asked to leave by state Homeland Security and state Emergency Management Agencies officials. The meeting was not considered a public meeting under Alabama’s Open Meetings Law.
Prior to reporters being asked to leave, Jolley said the decision to eliminate the agency’s patrol unit was based on TVA’s finances, which have been on the decline 2007. He said TVA board members made the decision and noted the agency must find ways to be more efficient. Cutting the police force was one of those moves.
He said TVA police would maintain a presence in the area, having an investigator and two inspectors stationed at the reservation in Muscle Shoals.
He added TVA is increasing technology in the security measures.
Jolley said there would be armed contact security guards at Colbert Steam Plant and one at all times patrolling the reservation. He would not answer a question from Rogersville Police Chief Terry Holden about whether those guards would have arrest power.
TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said they would not have arrest power, though. He said the guards can detain someone, and their first call in those situations would be to the investigator or the
Friday’s meeting did not alleviate concerns of most of the law enforcement agents who attended.
“The concerns I had before this meeting, I still have,” Muscle Shoals Police Chief Robert Evans said. “Every department around here could use more manpower, more resources. This will deplete these resources even more.”
Logan said Friday’s meeting was “a waste of time, other than being threatened,”
Ray said the meeting didn’t serve any purpose.
“That’s more than 21/2 hours of my life that I can’t get back,” Ray said.
“I still feel this has been dumped in our laps and we were told to deal with it.”