GARLAND — A resolution for new police department procedures was rejected by the majority of commissioners Tuesday night, despite Mayor Winifred Murphy’s concerns on accountability.
During a special meeting, the board voted 4 to 1 to not officially approve a list of 12 actions for Chief Ron Matthews to follow. Commissioner Eddie Bronson Jr. voted against the motion made by Commissioner Lee Carberry and backed by Commissioner S.J. Smith. Some of the listed actions involved car mileage, submitting a written police report at meeting, and responding promptly to the mayor’s emails or phone calls on personal or town-provided devices — a request that bothered several commissioners.
“He already said that he doesn’t report to you,” Carberry said. “He reports to the board.”
Commissioner Austin Brown agreed and said Matthews shouldn’t have to answer his personal phone.
“I don’t know how we can tell him to answer his personal phone that he pays for,” Brown said.
At the Aug. 7 meeting, Attorney Alan Maynard was asked to compile the procedures in resolution form, following approval by commissioners. They unanimously OK’d the actions, with the exception of one reading that “(Chief) Matthews’ effective work time will begin when he arrives at the police station and end when he leaves the police station.” Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Smith voted against it.
When commissioners met Tuesday, Carberry, who was not present at the Aug. 7 meeting, said he didn’t want to approve the actions. Maynard reminded the commissioner that a consensus was already reached. But during the meeting, Commissioner Ralph Smith suggested that the previous actions approved were just suggestions and that official minutes were not recorded by a town clerk for the record, while the meeting was held.
He addressed concerns about the resolution becoming a legal document that Matthews had to follow now. But Murphy responded and said Ralph Smith was fine with the idea and made a motion for one of the actions, which was for the chief working 8 hours a day. She added that S.J. Smith made many as well during the last meeting.
“What is your problem with the board actions from August the 7th in terms of improving accountability for the police department?” the mayor asked.
Murphy said she believed commissioners against the measures should give an explanation for their decision, but they felt it wasn’t needed.
“I think you deserve to give one to the citizens of Garland,” Murphy said.
Commissioners who opposed the resolution did not change their minds citing official record keeping as the reason. Murphy questioned if the board did not trust Maynard to write an official resolution.
“They just passed last week,” Bronson said to his colleagues while speaking in favor of the document. “I don’t know what the problem is? Why are we going through this?”
Commissioners Carberry and Brown brought up the phone matter and having to respond to Murphy’s calls. The next day, Murphy said Matthews was still using his personal phone and will not answer his town-issued phone when she calls. She added that she can only reach him through 911 or by calling another commissioner. While addressing the matter, she referenced records of a February meeting where Matthews stated that he had been using his personal phone with limited Internet access. During the meeting, he made a request for the town to provide him a phone with adequate service, which was provided later.
“There’s very few times when I might need to reach the chief,” Murphy said to her colleagues. “But when I do as mayor of the town, I shouldn’t have to go through you, Ralph, S.J. or Eddie.”
After the vote was made Tuesday, more discussion followed regarding police procedures such as hiring an auxiliary officer without approval from commissioners. Carberry felt the decision should be made by Matthews and not commissioners.
“Who here is able to interview a police officer? The chief is because of the legal liability,” Carberry said.
Bronson had a different opinion on the matter.
“We set the rules,” Bronson said about the selection process on qualifications such as driving records and previous employment.
The hiring of auxiliary officers is one of many steps toward developing a police department, which has come with controversy along the way. Some of the concerns raised has involved supervision, finances and record-keeping. To save money, town leaders made the decision a few years ago to pursue the re-establishment of its own police department after the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office requested more funding for law enforcement services.
(Chase Jordan | Sampson Independent)
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