The city of Statesboro has formally abolished its Department of Public Safety and re-established the position of police chief.
City Council unanimously approved these actions Tuesday evening. The move separates the Police Department and Fire Department, with the police chief and the fire chief to report to the city manager, following the October departure of Public Safety Director Wendell Turner.
With the city manager post also vacant, and the city manager now to be given authority to hire the police chief, both posts are expected to remain vacant into early 2016. However, at the end of Tuesday's meeting, interim City Manager Robert Cheshire announced that Maj. Robert Bryan is now interim police chief.
"I think I'd be remiss if I didn't just clarify and note for the record that Tim Grams is the fire chief and Rob Bryan, as the interim head of the Police Department, now that you have a chief of police, he would be the interim chief of police for the city of Statesboro," Cheshire said.
Previously referred to only as interim head of the department, Bryan in a phone interview Wednesday welcomed the interim chief title.
"I look forward to serving the community and the agency in this capacity and look forward to working with the men and women of the Statesboro Police Department as well as the community as we continue to move forward," he said.
An SPD officer for 17 years and before that a paramedic and certified volunteer firefighter, Bryan said he also looks forward to an opportunity to be considered for the permanent position once it is advertised.
Pay plan revised
By a vote of the four members present Tuesday, the council approved adjusting the pay plan so that the public safety director post is reclassified as police chief. It remains at pay grade 26, the same as before the chief's title was abolished in 2010. The starting pay is now $73,388, but the actual salary will be negotiable based on experience, said city Human Resources Director Jeff Grant.
The resolution also raises the fire chief from pay grade 24 to 25, with a starting salary of $66,486, and the police major's pay grade from 23 to 24. The Police Department, with 87 full-time jobs authorized, is larger than the Fire Department, with 50 full-time jobs authorized.
A separate resolution dissolved the Department of Public Safety, "to the extent that it exists," as City Attorney Alvin Leaphart put it.
"The Department of Public Safety was budgeted into existence," Leaphart told the council. "I don't think we could ever find any resolution where it was created as a department."
Turner, who left last month for a job with the Canton Police Department, served with the Statesboro police for 22 years and had been public safety director since the job was created five years ago.
In May 2010, City Council and then-City Manager Shane Haynes abolished the fire chief and police chief posts as part of staffing cuts and dismissed the previous two chiefs in the process.
The fire chief's position was later restored, but Turner remained head of the Police Department, while also having administrative responsibilities over the Fire Department, until his departure.
Council say in hiring?
Not quite decided yet is the amount of input the council and the public will have on hiring a police chief. The first part of Tuesday's discussion concerned the first reading of an amendment to Chapter 2 of the Statesboro Code of Ordinances. This step will only take effect if approved at the next meeting.
The amendment would repeal a passage that refers to the police chief as being hired by a majority vote of the City Council. Cheshire and Leaphart described this as a holdover from earlier years when Statesboro employed a city administrator instead of a city manager.
A city manager would ordinarily have authority, within the processes set by the city's personnel policy, to hire or fire a police chief, Leaphart said. Requiring a council vote to hire department heads would revert back to more of a city administrator form of government, he said.
But some members want City Council to have a role in the hiring.
"I think my constituents want me to have a hand in deciding who our police chief would be," said Councilman John Riggs.
Councilman Gary Lewis said the council should not be involved in hiring the chief, but should let the city manager "manage the city, and the department heads too." Otherwise, some council members exert too much influence on the police chief and confuse matters, Lewis said.
Councilman Travis Chance expressed a view in the middle.
"I think the city manager needs to be the city manager, but I do agree we need to be involved in the vetting process as far as choosing the candidates, or narrowing the candidates down from a wide pool to a group we would feel comfortable with that person picking from," Chance said.
Cheshire, Grant and Mayor Jan Moore have been discussing ways to involve both the council and other community representatives in the police chief selection. Moore, who had earlier talked about a search committee, said she still intends to involve the community.
City manager search
But the actual hiring will be done by the new city manager, so the manager must be hired first, she said. That, Moore predicted, could occur in early February.
Robert Slavin, head of the Slavin Management Consultants, assisting with the city manager search, is slated to attend the Dec. 1 council meeting. He will present candidate profiles for the council to review in closed session, Grant said.
Moore said a reception is being planned for after the Dec. 1 meeting, the last scheduled meeting of the year, honoring the service of council members Lewis and Will Britt, who was absent Tuesday. Lewis, representing District 2, and Britt, in District 3, did not seek re-election and will be replaced in January by Sam Jones and Jeff Yawn, who ran unopposed.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.