Let me be perfectly clear from the start: this is my opinion as an unpaid, occasional column writer. This is not The Chronicle’s view. It’s mine. It is not an editorial. It’s a column. I have nothing to do with The Chronicle’s editorials and haven’t since I retired. I read them on Wednesday just like you do.
It’s very disappointing (and frustrating) that the mayor and four members of Clinton City Council voted last week to buy a pig in a poke. They plowed full-speed ahead with no real idea of what’s going to happen next.
There is no real plan to move forward with separate departments of fire and police. There is no organizational chart for the fire department. No written policies and procedures. No clear plan for who does what. And while that was given as a main reason for get rid of public safety, nobody knows how it will be accomplished and, just as important, how much it will cost.
Two council members said, essentially, come up with a plan and come back to us. Tell us how many new employees we’ll have to hire and how much it will cost. Tell us who’s going to be doing what.
Perfectly reasonable requests. Their ideas were shunned without discussion.
Something else that needs to be made perfectly clear: I don’t know if keeping public safety is the best idea or not. I have not said, nor have I written a single word indicating I think we should keep public safety.
I don’t know. And, honestly, neither do the mayor or members of city council.
Public safety was not on my radar until I walked into the Aug. 9 special called city council meeting. Out of the blue, it was announced public safety was not working and would soon be a thing of the past.
Nobody said a word other than to make a motion and second. The unanimous vote was by raised hands. The meeting was adjourned. Let’s get to Dempsey’s before they get crowded.
The city manager and some council members have bristled at the suggestion there were secret meetings held. And yet, they have admitted all the preliminary work was done in private.
A third thing that needs to be perfectly clear: I have not said one time that council members meeting individually with the city manager is illegal. It’s not. At the Aug. 22 special called meeting, council required two attorneys — one from Columbia — to tell us what we all knew. Council’s actions were legal.
But make no mistake. They met in secret with the city manager to hear that public safety needs to be done away with. They didn’t want you or me or anyone else to know it. They didn’t talk about it with the current public safety leadership — other than to inform them a meeting would be held the next day to eliminate public safety.
I don’t think for a minute this was the first issue that was ever discussed one-on-one in private before so that decisions can be made before the first word is said in public. It’s happened with other city managers and other mayors and other city council members.
But it still sucks. It’s not the right way to do things in our city. And every member of city council and the mayor knows it. They did it anyway.
That fact is disappointing to me as a retired reporter and as a resident of Clinton.
Do enough people care to do something about it? I do. I won’t vote for any incumbent until and unless they look me straight in the eye and promise never, never to do this again. Never. No promise. No vote.
Much has been made (and said) about an Aug. 8 fire on Apple Orchard Road (outside the city limits). It’s being held as a prime example of the failing of our fire department. It’s been called a perfect storm, a disaster waiting to happen. Keep in mind, it happened the right before the first special called meeting — after the agenda (to do away with public safety) had been set and the meeting announced.
The report on the incident by the newly and quickly hired interim fire chief, who is being hailed as a savior, was quoted extensively at the second special called meeting.
And yet, the report, rather than condemning our fire fighters, to the contrary says they were diligent and proficient. Not one positive word about the fire division from the report was quoted as the Aug. 22 meeting. Not a single word.
In the 6-page report, the interim fire chief said “The video of the 1711 Apple Orchard Road structure fire is not, nor should it be taken as evidence of good or bad fire suppression. This video represents only a minute of staff’s activities and actions, and not the entire event.”
The mysterious video (no one has said who took the video or who made it public) ended before the actual fire fighting began.
The report makes it clear there are lessons to be learned from the incident and recommendations that “can be implemented easily by the department.”
The report makes those recommendations and then says, “Lessons learned are not to suggest department staff cannot perform these functions, but rather skills maintenance time to keep these skills at peak performance…”
Staffing levels for the fire department is a concern, the report says. “It is my opinion the City of Clinton Public Safety Department Fire Division is understaffed for the size of its coverage area,” the interim fire chief wrote.
So, more fire fighters are needed. How many more and how much will that cost? When asked, the city manager said it would be premature for him to answer those questions since “we will be going through a transition period which will take some time.”
And yet, city council has given him the green light without any knowledge or how many people will have to be hired and how much it will cost. A blank check, as it were, than you and I will have to cash.
As was suggested, why not hire additional people — public safety asked for two employees in the just-started budget and was turned down — get the fire and police departments organized to function independently with clear and concise organization and divisions of labor.
See if we can actually afford this. Who cares if you call it public safety or the Clinton Fire Brigade? What’s the rush? Why the secrecy? Why the anger? We’re better than this. Aren’t we?
I’ll be watching and listening and trying to ask questions. And I’ll let you know.
But, then, I’m just a dad gum newspaper writer.
(Larry Franklin is retired and lives in Clinton.)