BY BRIAN JONES

At its Jan. 2 meeting the Columbus City Council named Fred Shelton police chief and discussed a grant for upgrades to sidewalks and signals downtown. Three Columbus Police Department officers were also sworn in.

Assistant Chief Fred Shelton was named permanent chief by a unanimous vote during an executive session to discuss personnel issues. City Attorney Jeff Turnage made the announcement after the council returned to open session.

Shelton has been with the department for over 30 years. A Chicago native, Shelton came to Columbus in 1980 and began working in the street department. He became an auxiliary police officer in 1983, and was hired full-time later that same year. He worked his way up to captain, and was appointed interim chief in November 2015 after then-Chief Tony Carleton resigned. Shelton was one of three finalists for the chief’s position, along with then-Waynesboro chief Oscar Lewis and then-Moss Point chief Art McClung. Both Lewis and McClung had also served as CPD officers. Lewis would eventually get the job, serving from February 2016 until Dec. 31, 2017, when he retired.

Shelton’s appointment is effective immediately, Turnage said. He will have a starting salary of $72,000 and, after his 90-day probation period, will be raised up to $74,160.

In other business, Interim City Planning and Community Development Director George Irby and City Engineer Kevin Stafford asked the council for permission to apply for a $500,000 Mississippi Department of Transportation grant to upgrade to several intersections in Downtown Columbus. The project would require a $200,000 match from the city, Irby said.

“This will be great for Downtown Columbus, because these improvements are needed,” Irby told the council.

The work will include sidewalks and curbs, as well as “bump-outs” to both slow down traffic and give pedestrians some added safety, Irby said. Traffic signals will also be upgraded.

The intersections of Fifth Street and Main, Sixth Street and Main and Second Avenue North and Main will be affected, he said.

“Starkville has done something similar with the bump-outs,” Irby said.

“We will also add some parking spaces. The return on that will be that by the time this is finished you’ll be near an election year and you can point at the great things you have done,” Irby joked.

The match won’t be due until the next budget period, Irby said.

“We can go ahead and start on the engineering on it and by the time the grant’s approved we’ll be ready to go,” he said.

Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin asked about the timespan for the project.

“The schedule we have is abotu 452 days,” Stafford said. “But we hope to beat that.

“This all stemmed from the study being done on Main Street,” Stafford said. “This was an immediate change we could make, and the grant has been on the shelf for a couple of years.

It’s back off the shelf now.”

“Has anybody talked to the downtown merchants about this?” Gavin said. “If that lasts for a year it’s going affect some folks’ business.”

“Keep in mind that year includes the design and bid process,” Stafford said. “About half of that time will be before any work is done downtown. As far as getting their input, we’re going to put together a committee with representatives from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Main Street Columbus, the garden clubs, councilmen for that area to look at overall options.”

Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones made the motion, seconded by Gavin, to approve the grant application. It was approved unanimously.

In other action Tuesday evening:

Three new police officers were sworn in: Virginia McDonald; Jeremy Brown; and Reginald Adams. [I’m not sure why Mr. Adams was sworn in Tuesday night. He’s been on the force for probably year or so, and was a lateral hire from another department. – Ed.]

Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong announced there are two vacancies on the planning commission: three-year terms for Wythe Rhett and Quinn Brislin expire on Jan. 20. Rhett and Brislin are the sole applicants for the post so far. The appointment will be made at the council’s next meeting.

Beyond Shelton’s promotion to chief, the council took up three other personnel matters. One CPD officer was terminated for violation of the guidelines on motor vehicle accidents – over $10,000 damage in a five-year period. Two employees in public works were also suspended for 12 working days for unspecified misconduct.