City of Portland: We can’t remove alderman who used racial slurs

WSMV's Jeremy Finley discusses a recent investigation.
Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 6:38 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A statement from the city of Portland, posted to Facebook Thursday afternoon, explains why they cannot remove Alderman Thomas Dillard, who has repeatedly been captured on police body camera using racial slurs.

The statement reads in part, “Since elected council members are not technically a city employee, they do not fall under the same employment guidelines; and under State law, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen have limited powers when it comes to the removal of an elected official.”

Statement from city of Portland, TN about alderman who used racial slurs
Statement from city of Portland, TN about alderman who used racial slurs(Portland TN Facebook page)

It goes on read, “While it is true that these recent events cast a bad light on our community, it is also true that Portland is made up of loving, caring, and compassionate people who reject the use of racial slurs as they go about their daily lives seeking to do good.”

The statement is credited to the mayor and all the alderman of the city, except for Dillard.

But WSMV4 Investigates examined the city’s charter, and it states, “That the mayor or any Alderman may be removed from office by the City Council for any crime or misdemeanor in officer or for grave misconduct showing unfitness for public service.”

WSMV4 Investigates has repeatedly called city attorney John Bradley with questions, including about the charter’s claim, but he did not return a call or an email before our deadline.

The statement comes after a tumultuous eight months in which documents and video of city council meetings show alderman struggling with how to handle Dillard’s first incident of using a racial slur, admitting on policy body camera to calling his Puerto Rican neighbor the “n-word.”

After WSMV4 Investigates first exposed the alderman in February, city council video shows on March 7, Dillard apologized for using the slur.

“I’d like to apologize to those who were offended by the words that I used,” Dillard said.

Aldermann Megann Thompson, who sits next to Dillard at the council, was absent for the March 7th meeting.

At the next meeting on March 21, she introduced a censure that she requested to officially reprimand Dillard’s use of the slur.

“You have tarnished the reputation of the board and this city,” Thompson said in the city council video. “I am calling for your resignation tonight.”

But Dillard has already posted on social media at the time that he was not resigning.

At the March 21 meeting, he defended himself.

“Is there anybody on this board who can honestly say you’ve never used that word in your life?” he asked.

At some point, he turned to Thompson.

“Have you ever used the word before in your life?” Dillard asked.

“Absolutely not,” Thompson asked.

“Well, congratulations, you’re probably in the minority,” Dillard said.

“I don’t know why a bunch of pale face people are expecting me to apologize to them.”

At the March 21 meeting, Dillard said he had apologized to people of color on staff and in the city.

City Attorney John Bradley explained that the only way an elected official can be replaces is at the ballot box.

Thompson then urged the city to change the charter.

“The city should not be held hostage, in a situation of this magnitude,” Thompson said. “Any other workplace, a racial slur would be grounds for termination.”

While Dillard would not resign, he did admit using the slur was unacceptable.

“The way I used the word - and the reason for using the word - is wrong,” Dillard said.

Dillard was not only censured, but was also removed from committee assignments.

But roughly six months later, Dillard would once again be captured on police body camera for calling his bi-racial neighbors, “F****** porch monkeys.”

At the council meeting on Monday, Dillard told WSMV4 Investigates he would not be resigning.

“Do you think you should stay on the council?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.

“Yes I do,” he said.

“Despite you making racist comments?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.

“And I’m running for mayor,” Dillard said.

Dillard is running as a write-in candidate for mayor.

Thompson confirmed to WSMV4 Investigates that she is currently reviewing charters in other cities to see if Portland can change their charter and have recall elections for alderman.