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Rift emerges over FOP advertisement
Jul 25, 2006 12:00 am
Joint candidate endorsements meant to show unity between the county and city's Fraternal Order of Police chapters is again causing a divide between the two organizations.
Representatives from both organizations went as far as to visit The Lebanon Democrat offices Friday to purchase a full-page advertisement endorsing a slate of candidates for county, judicial circuit and state offices.
But on Tuesday, Wilson County FOP President Rick Risner said he had no knowledge of a planned advertisement despite the fact Wilson FOP treasurer Joe Jones was among the representatives involved in creating the advertisement. Risner did say his organization stands behind the endorsements.
And while Risner denies any knowledge of an advertisement at all, Lebanon FOP President Brent Willett said the Wilson FOP had reportedly decided not to help pay for the joint advertisement. The Lebanon FOP president also said he spoke with Risner about the ad.
Willett admitted he had not been told of the refusal "in an official manner."
"It's my understanding they decided not to help pay for the ad," he said Tuesday.
Risner said there was no agreement to buy an ad, nor did the organization "promise any money."
Willett said the joint effort was supposed to be "a positive thing where we jointly endorse these candidates … work together and do what's in the best interest of law enforcement and what we feel is in the best interest of the community.
In Tuesday's Democrat, a full-page ad stated, "Both Fraternal Order of Police Lodges in Wilson County endorse the following candidates" who included:
· Circuit Court candidate Bobby Hibbett
· Circuit Court Judge John Wootten Jr.
· Circuit Court Judge Clara Byrd
· General Sessions Judge Barry Tatum
· General Sessions Judge Robert Hamilton
· 15th Judicial District Attorney General Tommy Thompson
· State Sen. Mae Beavers
· State Rep. Susan Lynn
Willett said the decision to endorse Hibbett was not to go against sitting Circuit Court Judge J.O. Bond. But he did say Hibbett was "well-liked by law enforcement."
"One big thing was the Fallon Tallent case," Willett said. "He really left a good impression with law enforcement on that case."
Tallent was convicted of first-degree murder after she struck and killed Mt. Juliet Police Sgt. Jerry Mundy and Wilson County Sheriff's Deputy John Musice during a high-speed chase in Wilson County in July 2003. Hibbett prosecuted the case.
"He's worked very closely with us with high-profile crimes," Willett said of Hibbett.
The ad did not include an endorsement in the sheriff's race, where incumbent Terry Ashe is running unopposed.
Risner said the Wilson FOP will endorse Ashe, but Willett said his organization definitely did not endorse the sheriff.
"Most of our members don't want to vote for the sheriff," Willett said. "… From what a lot of them have heard, he basically accused our officers of murder in the Walter Kuntz case. … We haven't heard any statements otherwise, even after a federal investigation proved otherwise."
The Wilson County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 71 is comprised of officers throughout the county, including the Mt. Juliet Police Department and the Wilson County Sheriff's Department. The Lebanon FOP Lodge No. 83 is comprised of Lebanon police officers. Lebanon's officers split off and created their own branch several years ago.
Staff Writer Jason Cox can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 45 or by e-mail at email@example.com.