Nick Smarr and Jody Smith painting removed from city hall
Published 2:07 pm Friday, June 24, 2022
Update, 6/28/2022 1125am: SSF president, Faith Pinnell, states, “The Smarr Smith Foundation’s goal of displaying the portrait of fallen officers Smarr and Smith is to not only honor their services legacies, but also to remind their families, our community and visitors to it alike that we are stronger when united. The portrait has been on display loan to Mayor and Council for the past five years. Since it was recently removed from city hall, we are now taking steps to find a place where it can be displayed safely and prominently to meet our goals. We are appreciative to Mayor Kinnamon and City Council for their acknowledgement that the portrait is the property of the Smarr Smith Foundation so it can be hung where we as a foundation feel it is most appropriate.”
The Americus City Council and Mayor met for their regular meeting on Thursday June 23, 2022. Several members of the Smarr Smith Foundation were present, in addition were other citizens who were there on behalf of the SSF, as well as some citizens who were there for their own personal reasons. As a public comment, Blake Dukes addressed the governing body. He did so representing the Smarr Smith Foundation (SSF) as a founding and current board member as well as the 2020 president.
The Smarr Smith Foundation was established in 2017 in memoriam and honor of Nick Smarr and Jody Smith who laid down their lives while protecting ours in their role as law enforcement officers. Building upon the public’s overwhelming support shown to law enforcement secondary to these deaths, the foundation sought to create a way for our community to continue to show their support going forward. The community has not wavered in their support, as is evidenced by the SSF and her supporters raising about $80,000 just this year. Through various fund-raising events, most notably an annual gala, the foundation has raised approximately $180,000 which has gone directly towards needs presented to the foundation by Americus Police Department, Sumter County Sheriff’s Office and Georgia Southwestern Public Safety. If the SSF supporters’ funds were not available these agencies would go without vital equipment. Stop sticks, body armor, a drone, body cameras and non-lethal weapons are some of the items purchased by the foundation at the request of the agencies. In addition to allowing these law enforcement agencies to be equipped with tools they otherwise would have to go without, the foundation has also established scholarships for law enforcement officers to further their training and education.
At the inaugural gala, a famous “speed painter” was the entertainment for a sold out GSW Storm Dome full of supporters. As his last act, the painter did a portrait of Jody and Nick. Similar portraits by this artist are worth $10,000. In an effort to get it placed appropriately, so locals and visitors alike could learn of these two officers, SSF and the City of Americus made an agreement. On behalf of the city, Mayor Barry Blount and city council accepted the portrait and informed the foundation it would hang in city hall, and so it has been until early May when the city decided it would be taken down without the foundation’s knowledge. The foundation found out about its discharge because members had a called meeting in the room where it was stored. The SSF looked to understand and determine why a portrait of the two officers, paid for by our citizens, was not appropriately hung as was the agreement with the mayor and city council of 2017. Blake’s statement, which was also provided to the council, follows.
“Good evening mayor and city council, my name is Blake Dukes. I served as the 2020 President of the Smarr Smith Foundation and will be speaking on behalf of our Board of Directors. On August 24th of 2017, I stood in this very place along with other board members to present our portrait of fallen officers Nick Smarr & Jody Smith to the city. Before this meeting, our board and the mayor at the time, agreed to a verbal arrangement or “gentleman’s agreement”, if you will, that our portrait would be hung and located in a prominent location so that it would be easily viewable and appreciated. Per the meeting minutes available on the city’s website, we presented our portrait on loan with this agreement. Former Mayor Blount said it would be hung in the welcome center as soon as renovations were complete. The portrait has hung at the welcome center since that time.
Fast forward to May 5, 2022, National Day of Prayer. We arrived here for the ceremony, only to find out after the event that our portrait had been placed on the floor of your executive chambers and leaned against the wall. For five years there have been no issues with the portrait’s placement or at least none that were relayed to the Smarr Smith Foundation. Also, this was after five years of our foundation. donating over $50k to the Americus Police Department for equipment and awarding scholarships to officers to attend the South Georgia Technical College’s Police Academy.
When we questioned why the portrait had been moved, the response given was that it had been demanded to be taken down. This happened with no communication to the Smarr Smith Foundation. We contacted local officials to set up a meeting so our concerns would be voiced. We were informed that it would ultimately be the decision of the tourism director if the portrait would be rehung in the welcome center. On May 18th, we learned that the decision made was to not hang the portrait in the previous location.
After going through what we have deemed are the proper channels, our board has determined that the verbal agreement or “gentleman’s agreement” has been broken. Myself, along with other board members removed our portrait and stored it in a secure, climate-controlled location. Following this there were four emails between our current president and city official stating that we were exploring other options for a permanent location for our portrait, however, these emails went unanswered.
On Wednesday, June 1st, I was notified that our portrait had to be hung by end of business day on Friday June 3rd at the APD. In an effort to relieve any undue stress, we arranged for it to be temporarily hung there which is where it is currently. Through all this, we spoke and reached an agreement with the Sumter County Commissioners and Sheriff Bryant for it to be hung at the Sumter County Courthouse where it could be displayed in a prominent location to be appreciated and protected.
Mayor Kinnamon and city council members, we are here tonight to announce that we will be taking our portrait back into our possession. We refuse to have it taken hostage for personal gains nor be used as a tool for one to further any political agendas. Our portrait is to honor these fallen heroes and be a clear reminder of the events of December 7, 2016. While it was a horrific moment in time, the unity displayed within our community will never be forgotten. With this being said, the Smarr Smith Foundation would like to say thank you for allowing it be hung for the previous five years.”
Blake’s allotted three minutes expired before he could complete the last three sentences of these remarks. However, several council members questioned the past president of SSF. Nicole Smith was unaware of the “city official” who “demanded” it be taken down. Blake responded “your city manager” who is Diadra Powell. Mayor Lee Kinnamon stated, “I regret it has come to this” and then called out additional regret over “miscommunication or lack of communication.” The mayor then asked the council if they had a “deed of gift” which is a common occurrence when a gift is made to an institution such as the City of Americus. The SSF considers the portrait to belong to the foundation and it was simply on loan to the City of Americus for display purposes. Eventually City Attorney Jimmy Skipper confirmed a deed of gift is a common practice.
However, before Jimmy confirmed this information, more council comments were made. When asked of knowledge of a deed of gift, Nelson Brown took the floor giving his police service record. He acknowledged “I know other people have strong feelings about the tragedy but no more feelings than I do.” He eventually got to the point of who owned the portrait and reports, “from my understanding the portrait was given to the City of Americus, if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. When something is given—you see I got privileged to more information than you all do about the portrait being here on the floor to the portrait not being hung so it’s kind of unfair that everybody don’t know all the information, that’s the law enforcement in me. You have to have all the information before you really understand what we’re talking about here tonight” After telling the past president of the SSF that he has “more information than you all do” Nelson went on to say lack of the information has potential to make things “more confusing and more divisive. We don’t need to be any more divisive we need to pull us together.” Brown did not mention what any of his “information” was. Brown then suggested Blake and the SSF “get more detail about what actually happened. Why the portrait was here, and what other communication was in between that.” Nelson closed out his comments and Daryl Dowdell took the floor.
Daryl requested Blake to email his statement to the council so he could be privy to the last sentences he was unable to read. Dowdell remarked that Blake had mentioned, “personal gain and personal agenda, and I would like clarification on that.” Blake responded, “we are concerned about our portrait, and that’s it. I am not here to fight any battles for anybody else. We are here for what is ours, and we have it right here (in the minutes from the meeting it was presented in August of 2017) from where we gave it on loan to the city to be presented and that’s, that.” Dowdell’s question gave Blake the opportunity to express the sentiment of the sentences not read. Blake stated, “That was a bad time in our community. Horrific. But what we saw in the days, weeks, months following is what we are all about.” With that, Dowdell reports he is unaware “of where it came from that the city didn’t want the portrait, I never said that personally. I would love to have the portrait. I would love for it to be back where it was, but I am just one council member. So, I would like that to be known to everybody. It didn’t bother me when I walked in (city hall). I looked up at it and sometimes said a little prayer and kept walking. I don’t want it to be misconstrued that the entire city didn’t want it. So, I’m going to let you know Daryl Dowdell didn’t mind it being there.”
Mayor Kinnamon confirmed with Blake the SSF wished to remove it from city property and place it at the county courthouse. “I am aware of no legal reason…. we have no deed of gift, and we have a statement in the minutes from August 24, 2017. The minutes indicated it was presented to mayor and council, and from that…. I don’t derive from that a legal (holding).” At this point Jimmy Skipper confirmed it was normal operating procedure a deed of gift would have been prepared if the property were to transfer from SSF to the City of Americus. Wanting to avoid “lack of clarity with the county in terms of hanging it because I understand from your letter that you needed clarity on the ownership to be able to present this to the county” Lee got the consensus from council to establish the portrait did belong to the SSF and they acknowledged it would be hung in the courthouse. Initially there was no objection, Lee established he would draft a letter on behalf of council identifying no objections. However, Nelson Brown once again took the floor. “I do have an objection.” He then pontificated on the three-minute time limit and it “being awkward.” He eventually came back on point of his objection and mentioned the connection between the officers and APD. “The reason why I’m objecting…. because we got a monument outside…that’s why I’m objecting because all of that needs to be together.”
As Blake was dismissed, Mayor Kinnamon thanked the SSF for their work and their contributions to local law enforcement including the Americus Police Department which has received around $50.000 worth of equipment they would otherwise not be able to utilize. He spoke on behalf of Chief Mark Scott’s appreciation as well as the city’s. Lee once again established his regret over the situation. “We regret this incident occurred and we thank you for coming.”
Kelvin Pless and Charles Christmas were not at the meeting. Juanita Wilson and Diadra Powell gave no comment on the topic. Kinnamon, Dowdell, Smith and Brown all questioned and/or made statements as to the content of Blake’s comments.
The portrait used to be seen in city hall above eye and hand level because of both its financial and sentimental value. The SSF has chosen not to display the portrait, even with multiple ropes, at recent galas, for fear it might become damaged. On June 1, SSF was notified it “must be hung” in the Americus Police Department by June 3, 2022. The picture was hung on the left-hand side of the memorial case. The picture had not been encased in any protective way to keep it from destruction. For the foundation to do so, funds must be raised specifically for this purpose and time allowed for the protection, such as a frame, to be chosen and applied. For the average height adult, the entire portrait can be touched, or bumped into, causing potential damage. It is also well within children’s hands’ reach. Chief Mark Scott was instructed by the city manager to buy plexiglass and a frame for the portrait. The SSF asked it not be applied to the portrait, as to transport the item is cumbersome, and to add glass and framing would make the move more so. At the meeting Thursday night, a single velvet rope was placed in front of it. When the SSF was given permission to take their property, they reported the plan is to return the portrait to their chosen storage location immediately and they will be in touch with the Sumter County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Eric Bryant for to develop an appropriate option for the portrait in the Sumter County Courthouse.
The Americus Times Recorder will report on the details of the move as they become available.
To contact a city council representative, or the Mayor of Americus, Lee Kinnamon, please visit the City of Americus’ website at americusga.gov for email addresses. The phone contact for the city is 229.924.4411.
To learn more about the Smarr Smith Foundation, please visit their website at smarrsmithfoundation.com or visit their Facebook page under Smarr Smith Foundation.