GARLAND — Mayor Winifred Murphy wants to get rid of the town’s police department and use the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement protection, following concerns related to finances and accountability.
The suggestion was made Thursday after three commissioners walked out during a special meeting, which included a debate about assigned duties that led to the law enforcement matter.
With a limited tax base, the town is not able to hire employees to handle required services for residents. Commissioner Ralph Smith wants to stick to the town’s ordinance and have five committees. Currently, the listed seven groups are finance/administration, safety, streets, public works, parks/recreation, buildings, and cemeteries. The change would combine buildings, parks/recreation and cemetery duties into one committee.
Murphy said she believed cutting the groups would put more stress on selected commissioners. Smith disagreed and responded by saying that whoever is in charge of public works already deals with streets and other matters. He also questioned why the mayor had to be on a committee too.
“We have six committees and the work is still not getting done,” Murphy said. “Why would we try to put more work on a person when just yesterday the cans and garbage is running over in downtown Garland on Front Street.”
Murphy complained about street and public works maintenance not being completed and Smith brought up employment issues to address that matter.
“We only have two (employees) now and we can’t keep them two,” he said about having one additional position in the past. “I’m not going to get out there and do that work. You’re not. I’m not an employee of the town. I sat on this board to make recommendations for this town.”
The conflict continued when Murphy began to assign duties and brought up alleged comments made by Commissioner Lee Carberry during a closed session in April. Murphy said Carberry had a “temper tantrum” and gave a rant. She also reported that the phrase “bitching and moaning” was also said. During the closed meeting, Carberry said Murphy brought up issues not related to the town, but pertaining to him.
Murphy assigned Carberry and Smith to the safety committee. It was previously chaired by Commissioner Eddie Bronson Jr. She said Carberry and Smith undermined Bronson and sabotaged his authority with the police department.
“Do you have proof that I was undermining another commissioner at this table? I would like to see it,” Carberry said.
That’s when Smith made a motion to adjourn the meeting, which was seconded by Carberry. Next, Smith, Carberry and S.J. Smith stood up and left the meeting before it was officially adjourned. While walking out, the commissioners made comments about the situation.
“I didn’t get mad. I’m just tired of hearing this every time I come here,” Ralph said while heading out the door.
With the absence, the board did not have the required quorum to vote on matters. Bronson and Commissioner Austin Brown stayed. Along with an attorney search and committee appointments, accountability of the police department was a listed topic on the agenda for the special meeting. The meeting followed a budget session.
Murphy continued and said Bronson and Brown were not listened to when they brought up matters regarding the police department, which was formed as a cost-saving plan to using the services of the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office, who wanted to raise fees. Garland would have to pay about $113,000.
Now, the Sheriff’s Office is an option Murphy believes the town should consider since establishing the department is costing the town more money. According to her, it’s costing the town about $120,000. It was also mentioned that a sheriff’s deputy assigned to Garland provided more coverage.
“Can the Garland taxpayers afford this? Where is the accountability? I have talked to the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office and they have no idea when our officer is working,” Murphy said. ”They no longer patrol our town because they know that we have a Garland Police Department.”
She added that Garland is not safe, before bringing up finances and discussing if having the department was worth the effort.
“If we were to get rid of the police department, the sheriff’s department would still have to answer because we are tax-paying citizens and they cannot refuse to answer a call,” Bronson said.
The mayor said deputies are dispatched to Garland after several calls are made to Garland’s Chief Ronald Matthews. He was not present at the meeting.
“I no longer feel safe in Garland,” Murphy said. “Even at one time when we had nobody, I felt safe going to the Han-Dee Hugo’s at night. Now, that I know that our chief is not here and that the Sampson County Sheriff’s Department is not patrolling, we have no protection.
“There’s been more crimes with us having a $120,000 Garland Police Department, than there has been in the past,” Murphy said.
Murphy and the present commissioners brought up communication efforts falling through and being undermined when it came to concerns. She said two of the commissioners who left (Ralph Smith and Carberry) were appointed by commissioners and not elected by residents during the last election.
“But they are the two who have total control of the Garland Police Department,” Murphy said. “And Commissioner S.J. goes along with it.”
Bronson and Brown received the most votes with residents in November. Murphy was elected to another term as mayor when she ran against against former commissioners Haywood Johnson and Ralph Smith.
“But we’re all disrespected,” Murphy said.
During the next meeting, Murphy, Bronson and Brown said she would like to hear from more residents. Some of the other matters included driving a police car 30 miles away from home and using the town’s gas money. Brown added that the decision was made before the current board. He also brought up concerns about a financial outlook of being $25,000 over budget for the 2018-2019 period. For public works, Brown objected to an idea of sending proposals to Waste Industries to pick up yard debris and trash when employees are making $14 and $15 per hour.
“The citizens of Garland are not getting what they deserve,” Brown said.
Murphy followed and said she would no longer sign-off on anything related to the Garland Police Department becuase of her feelings on accountability and financial matters.
After a decision was made a few years ago to end a contract with the sheriff’s department, the decision worried business owners and residents. Shortly after, Commissioners began to take steps which included the purchasing of a used vehicle, equipment and bringing in a consultant to find Matthews. But finances and issues regarding the station followed after a decision was made to make the annex building, the headquarters for the department. It was previously used as the meeting space for the town’s volunteer organization which plans community events. This troubled Murphy and members of the organization, but commissioners said the previous room was not big enough for police work.
During an April 10 meeting, the efforts of Matthews was applauded by resident Sylvia Carter, after Matthews responded to her call regarding burglary, theft and finding the suspect. When it came to dealing with the evidence and possible tampering, she supported the decision to change locations.
“That’s exactly why his office can’t be shared,” Carter said. “Your chief of police here in Garland is a professional. He does an excellent job. He’s a dedicated law enforcement man.”
When asked Thursday if they wanted to vote on eliminating the police department, Brown and Bronson did not give a definite answer and wanted to get input from citizens during the next public meeting.
“We represent them, so they need to have a voice,” Brown said.
The next meeting for Garland’s Board of Commissioners is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 1, at Town Hall, 190 S. Church Ave.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-592-8137. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.