Whatever the end is, it can’t end well, either for the city of Rincon, its reputation or its citizens.
The latest sad chapter in what has become an endless saga was written Monday night at the appeal hearing of former police chief Michael Berry. That Berry’s termination was upheld was a fait accompli — city council members spent 45 minutes in executive session, ostensibly to decide an outcome that was never really in doubt.
The impromptu closed-door meeting that led to this upheaval — an illegal meeting, according to one of the state’s foremost First Amendment experts — was supposed to get to the bottom of the rumored dissension in the ranks. It’s safe to say it may have engendered more of that turmoil.
The city is down to eight officers, from a complement of 14. Also, an officer with a heretofore sterling reputation has been demoted.
A review of police personnel records by the Herald unveiled some of the disciplinary actions taken against Rincon cops during Berry’s brief tenure.
• A Bloomingdale man complained that a Rincon officer threatened him and said, “I ought to break your neck.” That complaint was investigated and sustained.
• An officer was counseled for spending too much time on his cell phone while on patrol. Another officer requested to be transferred from that officer’s shift because of “a negative attitude and comments in reference to the police force.” Yet another officer also complained that the officer in question had “a negative attitude and is constantly complaining about the police department.”
• An officer who had been placed on 90-day probation, eventually reduced to 60 days, was determined to have initiative and resourcefulness that were “below expectations,” according to his evaluation. His evaluation said he was not “self-motivated or proactive” and his adaptability was “below expectations” since “he does not accept changes to his work schedule well.”
• Two officers were counseled for having a suspect in a residential burglary case unsecured in the police department.
The city has not finished an investigation into allegations, an investigation that started more than two months ago.
Mayor Lee said they were close to being done. They were close a month ago during the Scott Collins hearing. There’s only eight officers left on the force to interview. How long is this supposed to take? And they have yet to talk with Berry or his attorney about the charges.
Plus, the city released four pages of allegations against the chief before the investigation was completed, an investigation that if the charges were this serious would perhaps be better handled by the district attorney’s office or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, if nothing else for the sake of impartiality.
And there were allegations in the Collins appeal hearing about the on-duty conduct of another officer, charges that were not refuted or denied during that session. That officer remains on the force today.
The city has put forth its stamp on its input into further city hirings. For most progressive and forward-thinking cities, it hires the supervisors and lets them fill in the ranks. Is this a policy the council intends to keep as the city grows? If it does, it’s short-sighted, to say the least.
And if the council has been indeed responsible for hiring the police chief, then why wasn’t anything said after Toms offered Berry the job and Berry accepted back in March, without council members’ input? Did they not realize this until recently?
At some point, the city is going to have to hire another police chief, its fourth in less than four years. Since Toms is on suspension as well, another city manager — the fourth in a similar amount of time — may well be in the offing.
That begs the question — who’d want those jobs now?