GARLAND — Following another heated debate about the police department, Mayor Winifred Murphy said she supports public safety in Garland, but requested more accountability.
The issue was brought up by Murphy during a Monday special meeting about the town budget and other financial matters. A discussion was followed by back and forth conflict between the mayor and several commissioners.
“If we’re going to have a police department, we need to have one that’s a quality department and one that’s accountable to the citizens,” Murphy said Tuesday, when reached by The Independent following the meeting. “That’s my main focus … to bring accountability and policies to the department if we plan to keep it. If not, we need to go back to the sheriff’s department.”
After the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office requested more money a few years ago, commissioners made a decision to start their own police department. With the assistance of a consultant, Chief Ronald Matthews was selected to lead the department. Murphy pointed out examples of her support, such as presenting a proclamation for auxiliary officers, bodycams and car cameras for liability purposes.
Murphy began to list a series of requests Monday before Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Smith interjected, questioning the reason for them. One included a yearly evaluation of the department to see how many calls the police chief answers compared to action taken by the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office.
“I looked at that comparison and over the past year, the sheriff’s department is still answering most of the calls for Garland,” Murphy said Tuesday. “The chief has been in so much training and only works two days a week here or three days a week there.”
Another idea was to create a citizen advisory committee so residents can provide feedback about their needs, concerns and complaints.
“It’s the town’s money,” she said. “It’s not my money or the five people who sit around the table that make decisions. It’s not their money being spent. It belongs to the town. Often times, it feels like they’re spending their own personal money in terms of making decisions.”
During the meeting, Murphy said she feels unsafe, with concerns dating back to 2012. After getting elected as the first African-American and first female mayor, Murphy said she was harrassed by a group of people at a gas station.
“I’ve tolerated this for the past six years and I thought it couldn’t get any worse,” Murphy said, “but it has gotten worse in the past six months.”
After talking about infrastructure needs, Murphy questioned if the town could afford to pay Matthews to commute more than 20 miles away from Garland.
“Someone like a Sampson County detective gets paid because he can stop a car right outside his house,” Murphy said. “But our police chief can’t stop anyone until he gets within one mile? Why are we doing something different?”
Her remarks also included complaints from residents and said that she feels unsafe, even with commissioners. A disagreement between Murphy and Carberry followed, regarding their posts made on Facebook. It also included talks of personal accusations. Several commissioners wanted the meeting to continue, before S.J. Smith said he felt the chief was being bashed.
“Every time you get a chance to bash the chief, that’s what you do,” S.J. Smith said. “You bash us on Facebook and tell lies and everything else.”
Coming to Murphy’s defense, Commissioner Eddie Bronson Jr. added that commissioners sit around the “greasy spoon” and make negative comments about Murphy. She later added that Bronson and Commissioner Austin Brown were removed from the safety/law enforcement committee because they were being undermined by Ralph Smith and Carberry.
Later during the meeting, commissioners expressed concerns about having special meetings with ongoing arguments.
“Every meeting that we have, nothing is changing and we’re arguing back and forth,” Brown said. “I’m personally tired of hearing it. If we can’t get along, we all need to go to the house and let six more come on.”
Murphy responded and said she’ll continue to advocate for the town and residents if they’re being abused. Ralph Smith asked the mayor to look at how many board members and employees have left since she became mayor.
“It’s been very difficult and I feel that a lot of it’s because I’m an African-American and because I’m a woman,” Murphy said.
Carberry responded by saying that race was not the case and that the mayor “stirs up” matters. Ralph Smith added that he recommended her for the position. The discussion briefly continued with more debate about Facebook posts regarding duties and personal matters.