Swearing-In of Former Police Officer to Columbus Council Delayed Amid Uncertainty

Swearing-In of Former Police Officer to Columbus Council Delayed Amid Uncertainty

By Kirsten J. Barnes

Former Columbus Police Officer Byron Hickey was scheduled to be sworn in as the newest member of the Columbus Council on Tuesday, June 4 when Mayor B.H. “Skip” Henderson III announced that the ceremony would be postponed. 

Hickey was selected by the Council to fill the remaining time on the unexpired term of Councilor Jerry “Pops” Barnes after his death on April 14. 

“I don’t know when it’s coming back up for the vote and I’m not clear why they postponed it,” Henderson said. “There was a vote to identify a replacement and on the date he was supposed to be sworn in, it was delayed.”

Henderson said he believes Hickey already had been sworn in by the probate judge, but it is not official until the Superior Court Judge swears him in.

When reached by phone Hickey, who won a 2010 federal discrimination award of $306, against the city, said he would save his comments until after the issue had been resolved.

“I would rather not make a comment now, but I will when they get back with me. I’m not speaking on that issue right now,” said Hickey, who was approved by the council in a 6-3 vote at the previous meeting after a motion by Councilor Charmaine Crabb of District 5.

During that May 28 vote, Councilors Glen Davis (District 2), Toiya Tucker (District 4), Joanne Cogle (District 7), Walker Garrett (District 8) and Judy Thomas (District 9), also voted for Hickey, while Councilors Bruce Huff (District 3), Gary Allen (District 6), and Tyson Begly (District 10) voted against the appointment.

Henderson said there also could have been a concern about how being on the Council could affect Hickey’s retirement and pension as a retired city employee and a new Councilor.

This new hiccup comes after several other names were discussed regarding who could replace Barnes.

Three days after his death, three members of the Columbus/Muscogee County State Legislative Delegation: Sen. Ed Harbison, Rep. Carolyn Hugley and Rep. Teddy Reese sent a letter recommending that the council appoint former Rep. Calvin Smyre until the Council could decide on a long-term replacement.

“We recommended him as a short-term appointee, but he was obligated at the national level,” said Harbison, explaining the delegation acted before they knew that Barnes’ daughter, Simi Barnes, had an interest in her father’s seat and before the state legislators knew the Council had an interest in Hickey. “That was just a recommendation. You can’t tell another entity what to do.”

On May 31, President Joe Biden appointed Smyre to be a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisor Board. Smyre served for 48 years as an elected State Representative in the Georgia General Assembly representing Columbus.

When reached by phone, Smyre said “he was busy with briefings” concerning his new national appointment.

On May 10, Barnes’ daughter, Simeone “Simi” Barnes, sent a letter to Henderson and the Council requesting that she be selected to fill her father’s unexpired term.

In the letter, she stated: “It was his love for his district that the second reason of this letter is anchored. On behalf of our family, we are requesting that I (Simi Barnes) be allowed to fulfill my father’s unexpired term. ... Like my dad, I have a heart for service. As a licensed professional counselor, I run my own private practice and have spent a significant part of my career helping underserved communities. Early in my career, I worked for a homeless outreach program that focused on getting homeless individuals into mental health services and permanent housing. I’ve worked with military families as a military and family life counselor. In 2018, I transitioned into private practice, and I have been serving in that capacity since that time. The core values my dad instilled in me are the primary reason I am the servant leader I am today.”

However, although Allen recommended Barnes after Hickey received a majority vote, she did not receive a vote from the council.

Thus, for now, the seat is still vacant, and there is no timetable for when that vacancy will be filled or by whom.

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