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Huntington City Hall is pictured in this May 2020 file photo.

HUNTINGTON — City Council members took several actions during their Monday night meeting.

They approved an ordinance to redistrict Huntington in accordance with the 2020 U.S. Census Data. The council met last week to hear the first reading of the ordinance and look at the map the redistricting committee created. All council members present voted in favor of the map. Chairman Mike Shockley was absent.

“This is probably the third time that I’ve worked on redistricting in the last 30 years,” said Councilman Bob Bailey, who was the chair of the redistricting committee. “This is one of the best maps that I have ever seen.”

Council members also approved an ordinance that creates the position of deputy chief within the Huntington Police Department. Mayor Steve Williams previously proposed the idea and said he planned to nominate Lt. Phil Watkins for the role. The deputy chief would serve under the chief, who is now recently appointed Chief Karl Colder. Of council members present, Councilmen Tyler Bowen and Todd Sweeney voted against the ordinance.

Williams said that while he had Watkins in mind for the position, he felt that the role of deputy chief would be needed regardless for the department to implement a community policing strategy and help Colder, who is an outside hire, with institutional knowledge of the department.

“I’m not creating this position for Lt. Phil Watkins,” Williams said. “I’m creating this position, asking you to approve the creation of this position, so that the police department would be able to function more adeptly at what we are seeking to do.”

Bowen said that when he spoke with residents in his district about the position and the possible appointment of Watkins that while many spoke highly of Watkins, some were concerned with the possibility of adding the position would create another level of management between the mayor and officers in the field.

“The majority of neighbors in Westmoreland don’t really see a community presence from the Huntington Police as much as they would like. I know I’ve had several different officers or different resources from HPD mention, you know, we have a safer community and things of that nature,” Bowen said to the mayor “What are your thoughts … if Lieutenant Watkins wasn’t in this equation, would you still be looking for this position? Do you not think the rank-and-file of the Huntington Police Department could fall in line under Chief Colder and still lead those community relations?”

Williams answered that he felt like the community and the police department would fall in line under Colder’s leadership with or without the position, but “you indicated that under the present system that the citizens of your district don’t seem to feel that there’s a community policing presence. That’s why I’m doing this. So that we can put the necessary focus and have the … precise management to ensure that that happens.”

The council approved a resolution that provided a statement of support for the licensure of the Cabell Huntington Health Department’s Harm Reduction Program. The item was fast-tracked out of the Administration and Finance Committee, which met on Monday prior to the regular City Council meeting. More details from Monday’s discussion will appear in The Herald-Dispatch later this week. Of council members present, those who voted against the resolution were Councilmen Bowen, Sweeney and Dale Anderson.

In the good and welfare portion of the meeting, council members Bailey, Pat Jones and Tia Rumbaugh, as well as members of the public discussed a possible resolution in support of bargaining talks for the ongoing Cabell Huntington Hospital and Special Metals strikes.

McKenna Horsley is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch, covering local government in Huntington and Cabell County. Follow her on Twitter @Mckennahorsley.

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