McNeece Apologizes; New Monteagle Police Chief Resigns
by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
Following the conclusion of regular business at the Aug. 26 Monteagle City Council meeting, former police chief Virgil McNeece addressed the audience and council apologizing for a racial slur allegedly linked to his being asked to accept a demotion. In the heated discussion that followed, newly appointed Police Chief Jack Hill resigned.
During regular business, the council approved the following: purchase of three tablet computers for the fire department’s new alert system, cost $627; a business permit for the California-based HVAC company Trahan Mechanical for a local consulting office; hiring Duncan Pack as a part-time police officer; and appointment of assistant police chief Hill to the chief position.
Given permission to speak, McNeece referenced four events occurring in the last few weeks.
On July 22, according to McNeece, Alderman Tony Gilliam gave him “an ultimatum to take a demotion, resign or be fired. When I questioned why, I was told I was not doing my job.”
On July 25, McNeece said “I sent a letter to the town explaining the situation since I was told I could not attend the July 29 council meeting.”
On July 31, McNeece said he received a letter from the council and the mayor offering him his job back, and he accepted.
On Aug. 15, McNeece said he received a letter from the city attorney, Harvey Cameron, “regarding a recording of me using a word considered a racial slur…[that could be] detrimental if brought to the public’s attention.”
“I used a word I’m definitely ashamed I used,” McNeece said. “I owe everyone an apology. I’m truly sorry. I coach with Grundy County football coach Tracy Hayworth. I’m not a racist. This was unusual for me and unbecoming of a professional. If the people of Monteagle and those in this room who support me feel I should resign over this, I will.”
The letter from Cameron also questioned whether McNeece had undergone a psychological evaluation several years ago following a shooting incident. Mayor David Sampley claimed he could find no record of the evaluation.
“I did go for the evaluation,” McNeece insisted. “I received a good report and approval to return to work.”
McNeece said he believed the letter from attorney Cameron was intended “to bully me into resigning.” McNeece pointed out the racial-slur incident occurred over a year ago.
“After 25 years of serving Monteagle, I’ve never had a complaint or corrective action taken against me. I know for certain there was nothing at the time Tony Gilliam threatened to demote or fire me.”
Rising to speak, Monteagle resident Doris Wiggins said, “At the last meeting [July 29], you guys said there was something Virgil had said and done that you were not going to make public since Virgil wasn’t here.”
“That’s right,” Gilliam said. “We should let Mr. Cameron handle this situation. He’s aware of what’s going on.”
Cameron confirmed that some of the information at issue came from the attorney general’s office.
“Virgil knows what the attorney general said to me, and I don’t think that needs to be discussed,” Cameron said.
Both Gilliam and McNeece offered to take a lie detector test regarding what grounds Gilliam gave for asking McNeece to accept a demotion.
“Everything that has been done looks like a personal vendetta against Virgil by one of the alderman,” Wiggins said. She questioned why there was no record in McNeece’s personnel file, “if you all knew something was going on.”
Hill stepped forward and said, “I’ve been thinking about this for two weeks. I’m not going to accept the chief position. I’d like to go back to nightshift patrol.”
Audience members called for McNeece’s reinstatement as chief. The language grew increasingly abusive, and Gilliam made a motion for adjournment.
Following the meeting, Hill confirmed that on Aug. 16, the day after McNeece received the letter from Cameron regarding the racial slur, McNeece delivered all his law enforcement gear to Hill and said he was resigning.