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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wiley George Pittman, The “Godfather” of Marianna Police Department Testimonial

by Bo McMullian
Wiley George Pittman was a great police chief. He was very effective, never was he violent, he hired great personnel and helped the Marianna Police Department become modernized--despite what many people thought at the time. But Pittman was also an excellent politician. He had to be. He had to run every two years, and he was chief for 24 years, from 1963 to 1987. He died this week at the age of 79.

During his last decade or so as one of the country’s last elected police chiefs, Wiley George, as he was known to all, was considered by many to be something of an anachronism, a man belonging to an earlier period of time. But that was not a true picture of the man, according to two of his closest friends and colleagues.

“Why was he never defeated?,” said Gary Sullivan, Pittman’s former police captain, contacted by the TIMES on Tuesday. “I’ll tell you why. He once said to me ‘A lot of people want to know what a politician is’ he said, ‘it’s just helping people.’ It was just being there and doing things. If there was any way he could help you, he would. And you talk about an open-door policy--that was the man by definition.”

Sullivan pointed out that Louis Roberts, the father of Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts--who won a term as MPD chief himself later--ran against Pittman and lost.

During the late 1970s and into the 1980s, attempts were made by certain mayors and city commissioners to circumvent Pittman’s power and authority. An office of Public Safety Director was created that was to be above the chief. But while the director had no trouble overtaking the fire chief, an appointed position, he had trouble with Pittman, a duly-elected constitutional officer in his own right. Pittman didn’t publicly buck the machinations, but he didn’t leave either. When the public safety department scheme didn’t work, a referendum was put on the ballot for a vote of “for or against having an elected police chief for the city of Marianna.” Why, all the “progressive minded” townsfolk were naturally convinced that the “outdated” elected status was an embarrassment to be done away with. Wiley George himself took no public position on the issue. “I’ll settle for what the people want,” he told The Monitor, a weekly newspaper of the day.

And the people spoke. And the measure was---defeated. Wiley George’s seemingly permanent frown was said to have actually broken into a grin from ear to ear for a few moments after hearing of the election results. To this day, the Marianna Police chief is an elected position, one of only a handful in the country. All the rest have become appointed, answerable to politicians, not the people.

Pittman did not pass on his political abilities to his subordinates when he retired in 1987. Ask his other captain, Charles Morris, who also spoke to the TIMES on Tuesday. Morris was hired by Pittman in 1972.

“I ran for chief in 1987,” Morris said, “but was defeated by Lavaugn Parmer. Morris then left the department. Sullivan stayed on until 1992 but he never ran for chief.

“A lot of people thought Wiley George was outdated but I found he was pretty sharp,” Morris said. “He was a lot more intelligent that a lot of people thought. He would always beat his opponents by a 3-1 margin.”

Morris said Pittman delegated a lot of authority to he and Sullivan and they were able to modernize the department with their youthful vigor. “The department we left bore little resemblance to the department we joined those many years ago,” Morris said.

“Chief Pittman was part of that change,” Sullivan said. “He DID change with the times. He was able to change and it all happened under his watch.” We give a final salute to this man who served the citizens of Marianna for so many years.

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