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Brooklet Police Department could be dissolved

Council to discuss whether to keep police or hand the job over to Bulloch sheriff's office

Tonight, Brooklet City Council members will hear from residents who are unhappy with the council’s consideration of a plan to eliminate the town’s police department.

Bulloch County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jared Akins and Sheriff Lynn Anderson will address the council tonight regarding a proposal for the sheriff’s office to take over patrol and law enforcement within the city, Akins confirmed Wednesday.

Brooklet City Council members contacted the sheriff’s office earlier this month asking for a proposal regarding the possibility, he said.

The council agenda lists an “open discussion concerning the proposal for contractual services for the town of Brooklet by the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Lynn Anderson.”

The council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. today at Brooklet City Hall. Brooklet resident Charlie Howell, whose son-in-law is a Brooklet police officer, is listed as a guest who will pose questions about the matter.

Kim Ellerbee, who founded a Facebook page titled “Support Brooklet Police,” opposes the idea. On the page, she shared a copy of a letter written by Brooklet resident Gilbert E. Howard and said she sent the letter to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Howard’s letter includes reference to issues he said concern the police department. But he declined to comment Wednesday on how he obtained information included in his letter, saying he wanted to protect his sources.

In the letter,  Howard said City Councilmen Russell Davis and Randy Newman “want to do away with the Brooklet Police Department,” citing a relative of Davis’ who had been stopped for speeding numerous times in Pembroke. Davis, as head of the council’s police committee, asked Pembroke police to help with the tickets, Howard stated.

“Brooklet charter states a councilman cannot use their position to help a family member,” Howard wrote. The relative then received a speeding ticket in Brooklet and faced court, he said.

Minutes from the Nov. 15, 2012 Brooklet City Council meeting refer to a conflict between Brooklet Police Chief Mike Buchan and Davis, for which Davis publicly apologized. However, Buchan would not comment on the conflict and Davis was unreachable Wednesday.

The minutes, detailing a statement made by Davis during reports from committee members, read: “The last couple of weeks or so there have been some things going around between Councilman Davis and Chief Buchan in which they are trying to make ends meet for now. Councilman Davis hopes that by the end of the year, before the new positions are handed out to the council, maybe he and the Chief will be on the right track to be looking forward to a better Police Department; Councilman Davis would like to publicaly apologize to Chief Buchan for things getting out of hand; this has been weighing on his conscience and he is trying to look forward, move on and hopes that it all works out.”

 

Sunshine laws violated?

Howard also states in his letter that open government laws were broken when three Brooklet City Council members (Davis, Newman and Jim Stanoff) “have had unadvertised meetings about city business” in Newman’s home.

Newman, who is chief building/zoning administrator for Bulloch County as well as a Brooklet city councilman, denied the meeting had anything to do with city business, and said the gathering was a social meeting of friends.

“That’s not true,” he said of Howard’s claim. “It was all friends, personal. We do not talk about city business,” he said, adding that the council adheres to the sunshine laws dictating open government.

Howard said council members approached the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office about the proposal without first discussing the matter in a public meeting.

In the letter, Howard also said Davis placed a GPS tracking unit on Buchan’s patrol car without his permission or knowledge, adding that Newman monitored the GPS on his personal computer while on the clock as a Bulloch County employee.

Newman vehemently denied this allegation as well. He did say the GPS unit was indeed placed on Buchan’s car, but he denied monitoring the chief’s activities while on duty as a county employee.

The council has a right to track city-owned patrol cars, Newman said. He added that the matter of possibly dismantling the department in favor of law enforcement coverage by the sheriff’s department came up as “basically for cost savings. We need to save every dollar we can.”

Neither Davis nor Brooklet Mayor William Hendrix was available Wednesday for comment. Hendrix did not return messages left on voice mail. Davis, who Brooklet City Clerk Lori Phillips said was out of town Wednesday, was unreachable because Davis does not allow his cellphone number to be made public, she said.



Records requested

The annual budget for the Brooklet Police Department  is $236,510, according to records obtained from the city of Brooklet after the Statesboro Herald filed a request under the Georgia Open Records Act.

Also, Phillips provided information about the police department employees and their salaries. Buchan is paid $845 weekly, with a $45 monthly telephone allowance, $39 weekly personal vehicle use and other benefits (insurance, retirement, two weeks’ vacation, compensation days and 12 days annual sick leave.)

Sgt. Jonathan McGahee is paid a $550 weekly salary, and receives the same benefits as Buchan.

One full-time officer is paid $541 weekly, with the same benefits. Six part-time officers are paid $12.70 an hour, and one part-time clerk is paid $10 an hour.

The Herald also requested copies of official complaints filed against the Brooklet Police Department, but Phillips sent a written statement along with the budget records stating “we have nothing” filed regarding complaints.

However, she included a copy of a June 30, 2013 financial report by CPA Reddick, Riggs, Hunter and Kennedy PC.

The report cites a violation of federal and state payroll reporting requirements. A city employee, the report says, illegally cashed checks made out to “City of Brooklet,” written by the Southeast Bulloch High School Athletic Department, for off-duty police services during sporting events.

According to the report, the money was split between officers who worked at the games, but the matter was not handled using proper procedure.



Support for police

Many citizens have posted comments on the “Support Brooklet Police” Facebook page, protesting the idea of eliminating the 106-year-old agency. Charlie Howell, the father-in-law of a Brooklet police officer, is one of those citizens.

“I do not see this as an improvement,” he said. “I firmly believe it is a bad solution … wrapped in what may be a modest cost savings by promising to provide the same service. I see too much potential for diminished service … I think it is a loss (of) local police officers with years of local knowledge that help prevent crime and usually work to defuse and de-escalate situations because they are known as local guys who know people's personalities.”

Howell said he has no problem with the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and is pleased with its services.

Buchan would not talk about the issue, but said the Brooklet Police Department offers “community-oriented policing” by officers who are familiar with “90 percent of people in the community on a first-name basis.”

Officers patrol the streets, businesses and schools, and are known by students, who often greet them in public. He said an elementary student approached him recently in a department store and “scared his mama to death” when he grabbed Buchan by the leg, gave him a hug and called him “Mr. Mike.”

“That’s the kind of stuff that comes of having a good community relationship,” Buchan said. “I have nothing bad to say about the sheriff’s department, but we already have that kind of relationship established.”

He said council members have not discussed the proposal to eliminate the police department with him. He also said he is overwhelmed by the support community members have shown.

 

Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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