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City looks to restore police chief post
Move will abolish Public Safety Department
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City Council on Tuesday took a step toward restoring the office of Statesboro police chief instead of hiring a new public safety director over both the fire and police departments.

“I think the need is clear for a police chief,” Mayor Jan Moore told the council, “and so, as our budgets allow us to maybe expand to a public safety director again, that should certainly be considered, but I think we’re doing a disservice to our Police Department if we don’t provide a chief.”

Moore and interim City Manager Robert Cheshire said that former Public Safety Director Wendell Turner, before leaving, told them that having a public safety director without a police chief was not the most effective approach.

Human Resources Director Jeff Grant showed the council a proposed new organizational chart. Both the police chief and fire chief would report to the deputy city manager. Since Aug. 5, Cheshire has also been deputy city manager, a newly created post he will keep when a new city manager is hired.

Limited to the chains of command over the police and fire departments, the chart shows only the deputy manager reporting directly to the city manager. When council members created the deputy manager’s position, they said that the city manager, when one is hired, can change the deputy manager’s departmental assignments.

Grant also showed the council an ordinance from the City Code that describes a police chief as being hired by a majority of the City Council.

“Basically one of the recommendations out of this is to remove this ordinance,” Grant said. “It’s a very old ordinance that doesn’t compliment the council-manager form of government. In the traditional council-manager form of government, the police chief reports to the city manager. That is pretty much across-the-board, across our state.”

 

Under city manager

As Grant made clear, the organizational chart he presented would allow the city manager to hire or fire the police chief.

But Cheshire said that he hadn’t discussed this part with Grant and that further discussion was needed on whether the council should vote to hire or dismiss a police chief.

Councilman Will Britt said he is comfortable with the council not having direct hiring authority over the police chief, since the council will hire the city manager and also has a deputy manager.

“I think it’s very clear if a city manager does something that the majority of council doesn’t like what happens,” Britt said. “So I think he’s not going to hire a guy that we suggested that’s not the guy you hire.”

Cheshire said he will recommend restoring the position of police chief instead of hiring a public safety director, although he sees positives in having a director.

“I think it gives you that person that is looking at the whole public safety arena, and then they can bring things forward,” Cheshire said. “But otherwise, I think those two entities are so different and there is so much required, especially in the police right now.”

For the public safety director approach to be effective, the director would have to be given more resources, and the city does not have those resources, Cheshire added.

Moore agreed, citing some parting advice from Turner.

“That was one of the things that Director Turner said, that he felt like the position he was in, minus the police chief in that position, that it was more than the director of public safety should be doing,” Moore said.

Turner had indicated a need for a police chief dedicated to that role, she said. A phone message left Tuesday afternoon for Turner at the Canton Police Department had not been returned by 5 p.m.

Turner, who left in October to lead the Canton department’s new Support Services Bureau, had served as Statesboro’s public safety director since the job was created five years ago.

In May 2010, Statesboro City Council and then-City Manager Shane Haynes abolished the fire chief and police chief posts as part of staffing cuts, rolling them both into the public safety director’s responsibilities, and dismissed the previous two chiefs in the process.

The fire chief’s position was later restored, but Turner remained head of the Statesboro Police Department, while also having administrative responsibilities over the Fire Department, until his departure.

 

Never a formal dept.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Moore and City Attorney Alvin Leaphart spoke about the Public Safety Department as never having been formally created. The city apparently created only the public safety director’s job, but then began referring to the two departments under the director’s supervision by a single name.

Moore suggested that a City Council resolution is needed to dissolve the Public Safety Department “because even though it wasn’t technically created, it has been in operation.” She asked Leaphart’s advice on how to proceed.

“You would pass a simple resolution, sort of abolishing the Public Safety Department, to the degree that it exists,” Leaphart said. “You make it clear that any references to the Public Safety Department in the record would now refer to the Statesboro Police Department.”

He also suggested recognizing both the police chief and fire chief as department heads “as contemplated by the (City) Charter” and adopting the new organizational chart.

Without a resolution and a job description in hand, the council did not adopt the changes Tuesday. But Councilman Phil Boyum made a motion, seconded by Councilman Gary Lewis and unanimously approved, instructing Grant to prepare the materials needed “to move back to the police chief model.”

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

 

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