Residency requirement may be waived for chief

Friday, October 26, 2007
Bob Phillips

Lewisburg's next police chief might not have to live within the city limits, according to council members who spoke up during a non-voting session Tuesday afternoon.

Councilwoman Quinn Brandon drafted requirements for the police help wanted ad that would include a residency requirement for former chief Doug Alexander's successor, but exceptions arose almost immediately.

"If somebody is already a city employee, they ought to be grandfathered," Councilman Robin Minor said with reference to a common law practice against adding requirements for those in an existing situation.

Interim Police Chief David Ray lives just beyond the city line and has a Belfast address. Several people endorsed his continuation as chief during the public comment period of a recent council meeting. Ray and four other men have applied before the position was advertised.

Since Tuesday's gathering in the conference room was a workshop and not a regular meeting, no final decision could be made, but it seemed clear at the end of the session that the next chief might be allowed to live within three miles of the city line.

Nevertheless, where a manager lives will affect a department, Brandon said, and Minor pointed out that four city detectives don't live in Lewisburg and two live beyond the county line.

"My brother," the councilwoman said of Taylor Brandon, "moved six miles down the road to be city manager at Cornersville."

As for those living beyond the city line, City Manager Eddie Fuller named a 35-year veteran of the police department who's served the city well. Furthermore, the charter was amended so a previous city manager could serve without moving into the city.

"Maybe there's not too much wrong with ... being 3, 4, 5 miles out," Councilman Phil Sanders said.

However, Councilman Hershel Davis said he thought the next chief ought to be paying city property taxes.

Regardless, the policy decision will be by a council vote. It will probably be discussed again by the proposed police advisory board and the council as a list of applicants is developed for the chief's job.

Criteria for the next chief and the candidates are to be reviewed by the proposed police advisory board, a panel suggested by Brandon. Mayor Bob Phillips opened discussion on creation of the board with cautious words.

"I have great trepidation about this because I think the police department should be part of the government," Phillips said.

Some officers feel their department should be separate, he said, acknowledging water and gas departments are separate.

Utilities have separate charters. Their budgets are funded by ratepayers, not taxes.

The mayor also offered political philosophy with larger comparisons saying small countries suffer military coupes and while that's an exaggeration, in democracies elected people run the government because they have to answer to the people.

Having a police advisory board was criticized by Walter Bussart, the attorney for former police chief Doug Alexander. Walter Bussart, who said such a panel was doomed to fail because it threatens the chain of command.

"Also, in our charter," Phillips said, "the city manager appoints the police chief, so I don't think we can have a police board that would appoint a chief."

Reacting immediately, Brandon agreed: "I would not want them not accountable to us."

"But in truth, this board would have no power," said Minor.

As proposed, it's to be an advisory panel with little power other than to select its own leaders and meeting times.

Some police officers don't want a police board, the mayor continued.

Brandon countered that officers had "come to me saying that they want a board."

Turning to the advisory function of the board, Phillips said, "I've quizzed Eddie [Fuller] pretty closely on this. He wants a police board."

Previously, Fuller said such a board's recommendation on who should be chief would be welcomed because it provides relief. The board could be faced with dozens of applications; perhaps more than 100.

Sanders saw "nothing wrong" with having a board provide the city manager with advise, and Minor noted the city manager would still be required to hire the next chief.

And, Fuller concurred, accepting the advisory board's recommended candidate for chief "wouldn't be a problem" if the panel's vote was unanimous.

"What if," the mayor asked Fuller about members of the council, "these five differ?"

"Then," the city manager replied, "they win."

The idea of forming a police board has been discussed in Lewisburg "since the early ‘90s," Fuller said yesterday. "It keeps popping up."

Now, he said, steps are being taken to make the idea a reality.