After a heated debate Monday, May 13, at Fort Oglethorpe City Hall, the City Council’s 4-1 vote to hire a director of public safety was challenged Tuesday. Council member Jane Moye voted against creating the position.
Mayor Judd Burkhart plans to hold a public hearing to discuss the action and let the public comment at the council’s next meeting.
“If it’s (the vote) not clear to everybody, then we need to make it clear,” he said.
The public safety director would be responsible for overseeing the city’s police and fire departments and emergency medical services. The director would also report to the council on personnel issues, make training and equipment purchase recommendations and advise council members about safety issues they may not be aware of, Council member Ronnie Cobb said.
Moye, who feels the position is unnecessary, pointed out that City Manager Paul Page already oversees both departments.
“I can’t see the need for this,” she said. “We’ve got places we can consult to get the help we need without having to spend the money and commit to another supervisor in the city. We don’t have enough people out there doing the real work, and I think it’s going to be a shame if we fill this position.”
“Nobody’s saying that someone’s doing a bad job or being dishonest, but we’re not experts in this field,” Cobb said. “There are things and information that we, as officials, are not privy to. This person could make recommendations based on fact not theory.”
The public safety director would earn a proposed $39,000 salary, plus about $7,000 in insurance costs, Page said, adding the city will advertise for the position in-house this week. If no acceptable candidate applies, the position will be advertised at large.
Burkhart, who stridently opposed Cobb’s proposal, said the city’s police budget is already strained, and the department is minus one patrolman. No new patrol cars were budgeted this year, and several of the department’s existing vehicles already have more than 150,000 miles on them, he said.
The city has sufficient funding available in this year’s fiscal budget to fill the safety director’s position if the city does not fill the vacant patrolman’s position or assign the part-time fire chief to work additional hours,
Page said, adding, “The same money will be there next year as there is this year in the same amount.”
Burkhart believes the cost for the position would be much more than the basic salary and insurance. After a city vehicle, secretary and other expenses are added up, the total cost to the city would probably be closer to $80,000 per year, he said.
Cobb, who admitted asking Page to add the motion to the agenda, said he had consulted with former Sheriff Ronnie Bowman about the position.
Burkhart said he believed the position was being set aside for Bowman and questioned whether any "underhanded politics” had occurred.
Cobb said many mid-size cities are implementing public safety directors.
“The highest escalator in government is fire and police,” he said. “That’s our highest profile area. If there are places we can cut in the budget and not cut the manpower and increase the salaries, we need to do that.”
“I have nothing personally against Ronnie Bowman,” Moye said. “My problem is the job position. We don’t need it (the director’s position).”
Interim Fort Oglethorpe Police Chief Steve Blevins told council members organizations, such as the state Chief’s Association, exist to advise municipalities at little or no cost.
“The general consensus between Chief Blevins and I is that there are a lot of organizations out there that can provide the information you’re looking for,” Fort Oglethorpe Fire Rescue Chief Bruce Ballew said