TUPELO • The City Council was poised last week to fill one of multiple vacancies on a police advisory board only to see a nomination put forward by Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan pulled from the agenda at the last minute.
According to multiple interviews, Bryan’s nomination of the Rev. Kevin Armstrong stirred concerns at City Hall, especially over some of Armstrong’s political views and his social media presence. Armstrong’s Facebook posts include claims associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory, which is based on a series of anonymous and unsubstantiated internet postings.
Other posts by Armstrong, a politically conservative Black minister, also questioned prevailing recommendations related to COVID-19 safety precautions and repeated debunked ideas about election fraud.
At a Monday agenda review by the City Council, Armstrong’s nomination was present on the agenda. When the City Council convened on Tuesday, the council voted to revise its agenda and delete consideration of Armstrong’s nomination while also adding an unrelated item to the agenda.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis said she had serious reservations about about Armstrong’s nomination and raised those to Mayor Jason Shelton’s administration in response to concerns brought to her by others.
“If he had gotten put in there, there was really going to be an uproar,” Davis said. “He would have created a lot of controversy in the community if his nomination had gone through, and I am very concerned about unity.”
In an interview with the Daily Journal, Bryan – who opposes the existence of the police advisory board – said he nominated Armstrong at the recommendation of Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre and Deputy Police Chief Jackie Clayton.
As he did when he previously nominated Tom Hewitt to the advisory board, Bryan said he would have ultimately voted against Armstrong’s nomination if it had come to a vote by the full council.
“The police advisory board is something I don’t support but Ward 6 gets an appointment so I feel like I ought to make the nomination,” Bryan said.
The Ward 6 councilman said the mayor recommended that he advance a new nominee rather than trying to push Armstrong forward. Bryan, who said he did not know Armstrong apart from a phone call and from Aguirre’s recommendation, said he likely will do so.
Bryan said he had only a passing familiarity with the QAnon conspiracy theories but rejected what he knows of the movement.
“I heard about it. I heard it’s a little group, but I have no idea about it,” Bryan said. “What you see on Facebook, I don’t know, sometimes it’s crazy. Q, that sounds like a bunch of quacky stuff to me. We don’t believe in that.”
Armstrong could not be reached for comment.
For her part, Davis suggested nominees for the city’s boards should be given more time for vetting rather than appearing for consideration only on the eve of a final vote.
“I think when you recommend someone, we need to have a little more time to look over someone before it gets to the agenda,” Davis said.
Originally charted in 2017 and intended as a trust-building instrument between Tupelo police and local citizens, especially communities of color, the board has never had a particularly public profile outside of attendance by select members at some neighborhood association meetings.
Bryan first’s nominee to the board, Tom Hewitt, went on to repeatedly state that his goal in seeking nomination to the advisory board was to obstruct it from serving any oversight function over police.
During his tenure on the advisory board, Hewitt, offered suggestions that even top police brass and Mayor Jason Shelton publicly disavowed. He proposed that police use more aggressive enforcement, suggested reckless vehicular pursuit tactics even at the risk of bystander harm and the use of bolas to entrap suspects.
The Ward 6 councilman pointed to the behind-the-scenes rumbling about his nominee as a point in favor of his belief that the board is not helpful.
“I do not think a citizens group should advise the police department. I support the police department 100 percent,” Bryan said. “I think the police advisory board was created under the wrong circumstances.”