View Mobile Site

Our Views: City manager needs to fully lay out plans for future of police, fire departments

      A decision by Statesboro City Manager Shane Haynes to eliminate the positions of police and fire chief and alter the command structure in each department sent shockwaves throughout the community when it was implemented last week. Haynes’ decision was made with the unanimous backing of Mayor Joe Brannen and all five city council members.
      While we understand the primary reason behind the changes was budgetary savings, several huge questions remain: Are the residents of Statesboro better served? Will they, at a minimum, receive equal protection? How will the departments work under one leader? These questions haven’t been addressed. Not even close.
      The immediate effects of last week’s actions were the terminations of Stan York, 34 years on the Statesboro Police force, the last nine as chief; Dennis Merrifield, fire chief since 2006; fire Capt. Emerson Melton, a 32-year veteran of the city; fire Capt. Mike Smith, another 20+ year veteran; and police Lt. Frank Roach. Also, police Capt. Wendell Turner received a huge promotion to the newly created position of public safety director, which will oversee both the police and fire departments, and police Major J.R. Holloway was named police commander. A fire department commander has not been appointed.
      The immediate effect on the bottom line was $480,000 less in expenses, according to Haynes, which will more than offset the $425,000 deficit the city manager said Statesboro was facing in the 2010-11 budget. It was presented that the only other choice was to raise the millage rate. And Haynes said he was directed by council members that a tax hike was not an option.
      The long-term effects are a lot harder to predict for a number of reasons. While Haynes said he has contemplated restructuring the police and fire departments under the leadership of a public safety director for the past year, no other details about the possible benefits of such a drastic change were released.
      In fact, as of Tuesday afternoon, the new public safety director had not been introduced to the public. Turner has been on the Statesboro police force for more than a decade and a lot of people in the city may know him, but a lot more people don’t. As the man charged with supervising all police officers and firefighters in the city, residents deserve to know more about his background and what his plans are for police and fire protection.
      Haynes said the department head and captain positions were targeted for elimination because they have the least direct effect on the public. No, they are not directly charged with patrolling the streets or putting out fires, but they are, or were, directly responsible for the officers and firefighters who do.
      No one can work as police chief for nine years and 25 years prior to that in the same department without making some questionable, even wrong, decisions. We have little doubt York would admit that. The others let go last week, probably would admit to mistakes in their careers, too. But, overall, the relationships they built in their departments and the Statesboro community were positive and will not easily be replaced.
      In tough budget times like the city is going through now, every service, expense and salary should be up for discussion. However, when harsh actions like terminating the police and fire chiefs are taken, the public deserves a thorough  explanation. We believe Haynes should clearly lay out his plan for reorganizing the police and fire departments under one director. “Trust us, we know what’s best for you” is not acceptable.
      About four years ago, we took then Mayor Bill Hatcher and council members to task for allowing their personal feelings about liquor to influence radical changes to the city’s alcohol ordinance. We hope the current council will keep their personal feelings and histories out of decisions that affect the citizens of Statesboro.
      The city will move forward and we have every confidence the members of the police and fire departments will continue to serve residents well. But regardless of what the city manager and city council believe, the years of experience and the thousands of hours of training lost last Thursday cannot be measured just in dollars saved.

Interested in viewing premium content?

A subscription is required before viewing this article and other premium content.

Already a registered member and have a subscription?

If you have already purchased a subscription, please log in to view the full article.

Are you registered, but do not have a subscription?

If you are a registed user and would like to purchase a subscription, log in to view a list of available subscriptions.

Interested in becoming a registered member and purchasing a subscription?

Join our community today by registering for a FREE account. Once you have registered for a FREE account, click SUBSCRIBE NOW to purchase access to premium content.

Membership Benefits

  • Instant access to creating Blogs, Photo Albums, and Event listings.
  • Email alerts with the latest news.
  • Access to commenting on articles.

Please wait ...