Register Mayor John Williams blames the town’s police department, which is indefinitely suspended effective today, for the town’s financial disaster.
However, council member Barbara Rushing said during Tuesday night’s called meeting, “It’s not just a police department issue. Even if the police department is suspended, we still have budget issues. Other things need to be tweaked, streamlined and put on a diet. Balance the budget and quit overspending.”
She said the town council needs to ramp up its communication between members and employees, and stay on top of the issues, nipping potential problems in the bud before they reach the level of seriousness that the current financial situation has become.
“We need to quit putting a Band-Aid on it and passing (challenging issues) on to another person,” she said.
According to an attachment included with the town’s agenda, made available to all present for the meeting, Register owed about $20,290 in immediate debt Tuesday night, including $435 in state add-on fees, $3,160 in liability insurance, $1,574 in a down payment workman’s compensation, $920 in inmate costs to the Bulloch County Jail, $7,696 to an accounting firm, $809 to Patrick’s Uniform company and $694 to the town attorney.
According to council member Brittany Brannen, who now handles the town’s accounting along with the accounting firm, Register had only about $16,700 in funds available. Council members spent about two hours Tuesday discussing ways to meet expenses.
Last month, Register sought assistance from a Georgia Municipal Association consultant to help clarify and correct what Rushing and council member Kevin Boyd said was poor bookkeeping.
Police department at fault
The Register police department was revived in 2012 when former mayor James Oates, current mayor John William’s late father-in-law, hired Tom Kile as chief, according to outgoing council member Boyd, whose last meeting as a councilman was Tuesday.
Williams said the department was fine when there was only a part-time chief and officer, but when the department expanded to have two full-time and two part-time officers (Chief Tom Kile, his son Terry Kile, David Ellis and Bobby Ivey), expenses began to pile up.
Intense ticket-writing through road blocks and use of a tag reader bumped the town into a higher category as far as add-ons and accounting costs, and the department also had a spending problem, he said.
“We are S.W.A.T. equipped,” he said, listing patrol car computers, excessive uniform and accessory costs, to include $10,000 still owed for a tag reader and such expenses as $119 for a jacket for Ellis, “who is no longer with us,” and Body Armor boots.
When someone mentioned how Ellis was hired, Williams asked the council if any of them had ever met Ellis. No one said they did.
“Tom hired him without approval (of council),” Williams said.
Former mayor Karin Stenborg, who held the seat prior to Oates, asked “Who gave (Kile) the right (to hire Ellis without approval)?” Williams answered, “That’s what I’d like to know.”
In a town where most council members have defended the police department, no one disputed Williams’ stance that the department was bleeding money.
Over the past few months the council has reduced hours and pay, reinstated the hours and full pay, then made cuts again.
When asked the reason for the seesawing, Williams said the council had weighed pros and cons and was trying to find a solution between the need for revenue and protection and saving money.
“We’ve heard (arguments) on both sides. It’s a double edged-sword,” he said. “It’s like we’re chasing money all the time — waiting in the next court date to pay the bills we owe.”
He acknowledged statements about police presence affecting local businesses were true.
“People are afraid to go in the store and buy beer,” he said. “They feel like they are being spotted.”
The town’s reputation as a speed trap prevents people from traveling through the town, he said. According to research and reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in 2014, Register, population 173, collected $170,770 in police revenue, which translates into $787 per capita, trailing only Jonesboro ($820 per capita).
“I am not against a police department — not at all,” Williams said Tuesday.
But, “When we exceeded $3,000,000 in revenues, it threw us into a different classification.”
He blames Tom Kile for allowing that to happen.
“It should never have reached that amount. Accountants said (the town’s financial debt) was due to revenue from the police department. When Tom Kile left Rocky Ford, he knew very well about the add-ons.”
Kile was employed as a police officer under Chief Pat Kile, his brother, when a Georgia Bureau of Investigation query began in March 2013 over the town’s alleged mishandling of funds and nonpayment of thousands of state add-ons over a 20-year period. Pat Kile, also chief of Oliver, is Tom Kile’s brother.
Rocky Ford’s case was later turned over in May 2014 to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is still being reviewed.
Council members mulled over several expenses Tuesday night, including a VISA bill town clerk Rhonda DeLoach said was used for police travel and training expenses.
The monthly payment for the VISA, with a balance of about $7,000, is $300. No one at the council meeting could comment on specific charges or who made those charges. Deloach was unavailable Wednesday to provide that information and police clerk Sandy Williams, the mayor’s wife, could not produce the information Wednesday.
Mayor Williams reiterated his opinion Tuesday night that the town of Register can find an alternative to the current police department.
“We should be able to have a police force in this town that doesn’t cost over $40,000.” Tom Kile’s annual salary alone was over $41,000.
“If we can’t work on a surplus, we’re beating a dead dog. I’d hate to see the town go broke. I haven’t heard a word out of our (police department) about saving money.”
Terry Kile said Wednesday neither he nor any other Register policemen were asked for money-saving solutions.
“I’m not happy about it,” he said, referring to the suspension. He blamed the move on a personal conflict between the mayor and police chief over the recent arrest of Williams’ son on methamphetamine charges.
However, the dissension between the town and the police department has been the topic of discussion during council meetings for several months, according to town records.
In an interview before Christmas, Williams expressed concern that revenues were down, affecting the town’s ability to make payroll without borrowing from its money market account.
He brought up the fact again Tuesday that police had only issued six tickets in almost two weeks.
Stenborg was met with a flurry of denial from council members when she asked whether the police were reducing the number of tickets written as a retaliation for reduced hours and pay.
“That’s a good question,” Rushing said, adding she did not believe the police officers would do that.
Money still short
Brannen then said there was not enough money in the police account to even cover the add-on debt.
Council member Elaine Lee said, “The police department would have money if they didn’t keep taking it out.”
Both Brannen and Deloach reviewed records that appeared to be convoluted, with multiple transfers of money from police accounts to other accounts. The transactions discussed were unclear at the time of the meeting.
“When the money is gone, the money is gone and you can’t pay the bills,” Brannen said.
Someone suggested selling the patrol cars to help defray debt, but Williams said he had planned to use the money from the car sales to cover the tag reader debt.
Bulloch County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jared Akins said Wednesday the two tag readers the sheriff’s department purchased a few years ago cost about $18,000 each. Register still owes $10,000 for its tag reader, which Williams said was purchased under request by the police chief.
“Tom said (the tag reader) would pay for itself. Tom failed to say how long (it would take),” he said. “The police department has its hooks on the town of Register.”
Other citizens present during the meeting expressed dissatisfaction with the police force, mainly regarding what they feel are excessive ticket fees and a negative public opinion of the town as a speed trap.
Stenborg spoke for another resident, Shirley Davis, who earlier in the evening told the council the situation with the town’s police and financial matters are stressing her personally.
Stenborg said Davis asked for attachments that were handed out during a previous council meeting, which she missed. She said Tom Kile denied Davis the documents, claiming they were not pubic record, but Sandy Williams disputed his statement. When Kile insisted the documents were not public record, Sandy Williams deferred and Davis left without the copy of the public record attachment, she said.
When council members agreed that those documents should have been made available, Stenborg said, “He (Kile) needs to keep his mouth shut about town administration.”
None of the town’s police officers were present during Tuesday’s meeting. Terry Kile told the Statesboro Herald Wednesday he had been instructed by a text from Rushing not to attend the meeting.
Tom Kile did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.
After Brannen and other council members reviewed ways to meet immediate debts and delay others by using funds available, Brannen first made a motion to go ahead with the debt plans, and then made a motion to suspend the police department.
Both motions were met with a unanimous vote.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.