Greg Fowler, who worked for the Georgia State Patrol for 29 years and was a member of the Cohutta town council until last month, was named by Mayor Ron Shinnick as the town’s police chief effective Saturday, following the resignations of the acting police chief and three part-time officers.
Fowler resigned as assistant police chief in Varnell on June 28, and resigned from the Cohutta council on June 12.
The naming of Fowler as police chief came after former acting and assistant chief of police Kyle Moreno resigned on Friday because of what he called “the current political atmosphere” in the small town in north Whitfield County.
The eventual resignation of former police chief Ray Grossman earlier this year after he was placed on paid leave and the hiring of Greg Fowler’s son Ryan to a full-time position as code enforcement officer has one Cohutta resident upset at what he believes is a lack of transparency in the town’s government.
“Where I stand is they are not telling anyone anything, and the people that voted them in want some answers,” said Stacey Newby. “This seems to have all spun from Ray’s suspension, and no one is saying anything official. All you have is rumors.”
Neither Grossman nor Shinnick have commented on why Grossman was placed on leave. Council member Shelia Rose said on Monday, “The town will be fine, but I have no further comment.” Council member Sandra Claiborne declined to comment on Monday.
Newby said even though Greg Fowler resigned from the council last month, not a word about it has been posted to the Cohutta website or Facebook page to let citizens know what is happening. Also, after Moreno posted to the Cohutta Police Department Facebook page about his resignation, the page was deleted from the social media platform. Shinnick said that was done because Moreno's post "left the impression that the whole department had departed.”
“If people think you are being shady, you will get voted out,” Newby said. “I don’t have a problem with Ryan. I don’t have a problem with Greg. I do not have a problem if the council thinks that is what is best, but the public needs to know what is going on.”
Moreno claims Shinnick and the other council members attempted to force him to promote Ryan Fowler to assistant police chief. Ryan Fowler previously worked with both the Cohutta and Varnell police departments as a part-time officer. He is also a former Georgia Motor Carrier Compliance Division officer and has a master’s degree in public safety administration from Columbus State University.
“Ron came to me and said Ryan was going to have a position in the police department and said that was what the council wanted,” Moreno said. “I thought we should bring him on as an officer and give us some time to evaluate him and if everything is going smooth, then if you want to promote him, then fine.”
“I don’t like this newly-found position coming out of thin air with money magically found for it, and oh yeah, he also gets promoted to assistant chief in the police department,” Moreno said. “I don’t think that is right. Ron came to me and said Ryan Fowler was going to have a position and the council wanted it. I think that is a big conflict of interest since his daddy is on the council. Things that they were doing were shady.”
Greg Fowler denied putting any pressure on the council members or Shinnick to hire his son.
“There are a lot of rumors that I would like to dispel,” Greg Fowler said. “Under the charter, the mayor has the power to hire and fire. The council decided to fill that position and opened it up to internal candidates. Ryan, who was already on our roster in Cohutta (as a part-time officer), expressed interest in the position. Ryan does not work for me. He works under the mayor and council and the zoning board. He has some powers of a police officer in the police department, but he is not the assistant chief of police. There is no nepotism up here, and if he were to ever screw up, I would be the first one to correct him. I’ve been doing that all his life.”
Shinnick denied telling Moreno that Ryan Fowler must be the new assistant chief.
“I deny that,” Shinnick said. “Now, whether someone else told him that, I don’t know.”
Greg Fowler said his son was out of town with his family this week, and messages left on Ryan Fowler’s cellphone were not immediately returned on Tuesday.
Moreno, who had served as the acting chief since Grossman was put on leave by the council in May, said he asked for a raise when he took on the responsibilities of the chief and was told there was no money in the budget and the issue would be revisited in September. Grossman — a 13-year veteran of the department — resigned at the beginning of June; the city is paying Grossman’s salary until September as part of a severance package.
Ryan Fowler is being paid $32,000-a-year in his position as a code enforcer. His rank is sergeant, "and that rank was given to him by Ray and Kyle when they hired him as a part-time officer," Greg Fowler said. "I had nothing to do with that whatsoever, and he is not the assistant chief."
Ryan Fowler was hired as the code enforcement officer by Shinnick “two or three weeks” ago, Shinnick said. He said he didn’t advertise the position or interview anyone else.
Shinnick said the position of code enforcement officer isn’t a new one. He said the position was created six years ago, and the person in the position quit after roughly a year. The position had remained unfilled since then. Asked how many code enforcement concerns he has had to deal with during the past two years, Shinnick said he couldn’t “put a number on it” but said there were “quite a few,” citing overgrown yards, dilapidated structures and “rotting out” cars in people’s yards.
“People ask why do we need one,” Shinnick said. “We’ve had, with the new fire station and other things, more than $2 million in investment of our town. We want to make sure the investment is protected.”
Greg Fowler will be paid $38,000 as chief.
Shinnick said the dispute between him and Moreno is over what he says was a lack of patrol coverage. Shinnick said the officers who resigned also worked for the city of Varnell. Shinnick said he asked the officers to focus on Cohutta.
"I wasn’t sure we had as complete coverage as we needed,” Shinnick said. “My biggest concern is that the town is covered. I have an obligation to our citizens. Kyle and I had a disagreement on scheduling and I think that he thought I was meddling in his duties as police chief. I felt like we weren’t getting the coverage we needed.”
Moreno — who was a salaried employee making $33,000, Shinnick said — said there was never a time when he was “on the clock” for Cohutta and working for Varnell. He said in an average month he works six shifts for Varnell. In July, he said he was scheduled for 11 days to help cover vacations for Varnell and that all of it was approved by Shinnick.
Shinnick said he tried to schedule a meeting with Moreno at 1 p.m. on Friday, leaving multiple voicemail messages. He said he wanted Ryan Fowler, Moreno and Bill Morgan to be there to “clear up the mess.” Morgan is the probation officer for the city’s municipal court. Moreno did not show up for the meeting.
In a separation letter sent by Shinnick to Moreno, Shinnick said Moreno was leaving in “good standing.”
“This letter is confirming that (you) left our department in good standing, free of any criminal investigation and with no disciplinary action throughout your time of employment,” Shinnick wrote. “This letter also confirms (that) you have returned all issued equipment to the Town of Cohutta.”