• 70°

OUR VIEW: After McCoy convictions, city of Lanett needs to build back trust with citizens

We admit it was a little jarring to open up a press release from Attorney General Steve Marshall Wednesday and see Kyle McCoy identified as the “former” mayor of Lanett.

We knew the news was coming, as we’d been working on a story after learning that McCoy had accepted a plea deal, admitting guilt to two charges of using his official position or office for personal gain. But it was still striking to know that McCoy, a popular mayor, was no longer running the city for the first time since 2015.

The admission of guilt is astounding because just a few months ago McCoy came out in a defiant, angry statement that he had done nothing wrong and would fight these charges.

“The attorney general’s office and others have made an attempt to destroy my character, embarrass the city, my family and the citizens of Lanett, by bringing criminal charges against me,” McCoy said in February. “I emphatically deny any wrongdoing, and I will vigorously defend these charges. I will not be deterred by this, and I will continue to serve the citizens of this great city with integrity and let justice prevail.” Well, it appears justice has indeed prevailed, just not as McCoy hoped it would.

Equally astounding is other leaders in Lanett were just as surprised at the plea deal as we were. A couple of council members told us we were actually breaking the McCoy news to them. We’re fairly convinced if McCoy knew ahead of time he was taking a plea deal, he didn’t tell anyone.

Evidence of that was his attendance and participation at Monday’s Lanett City Council meeting, where he helped finalize and pass the city’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. He gave no indication that a day later he would admit to allowing a family member to drive a city vehicle and to not paying utilities on seven different accounts, running up a total bill over $60,000.

McCoy was even featured twice on Wednesday’s front page of this newspaper — smiling at the top of the paper with West Point Fire Chief Milton Smith and Valley Police Chief Tommy Weldon. Just a few hours after that newspaper was delivered to your mailbox, McCoy had admitted to these crimes and became a convicted felon. We have to wonder if he’s smiling now.

Let’s not forget that he also chose to run for re-election last year following the ethics commission referring the case to the attorney general’s office, a sign there was actually some validity to the allegations. Little details were known at that point, but it was clear whatever McCoy was accused of was serious, but yet he thought he could still get away with the crimes he has since admitted to committing.

Even with the smell of impropriety by McCoy wafting through the air, voters didn’t care as he cruised to victory last fall.

We feel it’s important to point out that McCoy knew all along whether or not he was guilty of these allegations. We haven’t heard from him, but it’s unlikely he woke up Tuesday, saw the deal for the first time and made a decision. No, McCoy, had obviously reviewed the document and knew what was on the horizon. Did he really leave the city unprepared?

And on top of all of that, what makes this even more damning is that two years ago McCoy and the city council voted themselves huge raises. McCoy went from earning $350 a month to $1500 a month (which started when he was re-elected last year), making him the highest paid mayor in Chambers County.

To be completely transparent, we wrote then that we were in favor of well overdue raises, but we never understood why they needed to be such a significant bump in pay so quickly.

McCoy actually argued then that increasing his pay — since he was handling the day-to-day operation of the city — would be much cheaper than hiring a city manager, who would probably demand a six-figure salary.  With all the extra money on the horizon, you would’ve thought McCoy would’ve paid his utilities, like the rest of us do.

All of that begs the question: How are citizens supposed to believe this sort of thing will never happen again? A couple of council members argued that they don’t believe this creates distrust with citizens, but how couldn’t it?

Remember that Tony Chandler, Lanett Director of Planning and Development, is also being investigated and has been charged with using his official position for personal gain, third-degree theft of services and making a false statement to an employee of the ethics commission. His case is still ongoing.

Since the allegations came out against McCoy last year, the city council has considered hiring a city manager or city administrator but has not hired either. We’ve always been in support of that move, and we recommend it happen quickly now.

More oversight is definitely needed to ensure this sort of thing never happens again, and adding a city administrator can only help.

Jamie Heard is currently the interim mayor, and the council can decide how it wants to move forward with the mayoral position, as long as they decide in the next 60 days. If no decision is made in that time, we’re told the governor’s office would ask for recommendations from the council and could appoint someone. 

However, since McCoy’s term isn’t even a full year in, we think an election should be held to determine who takes over the all-important mayoral position moving forward. With three years of McCoy’s term remaining, the people of Lanett need to decide who they want to represent them, not the council or governor.

The people of Lanett are having to endure all of the news reports, all of the fallout of this conviction from a man they trusted to properly handle taxpayer funds and to lead the city with integrity.

The least city leaders can do is at least let citizens vote on the next mayor, rather than have that decision made for them.   

We think Kyle McCoy has done a lot of good for the city of Lanett, as many of you do. But he made these terrible decisions — committed felonies — and now he’s paying the price. The city of Lanett must move on and find the leadership and oversight needed to ensure this sort of thing never happens again.