Council members in Porterdale agreed to take out a loan in order to re-hire a furloughed officer Monday night — but not before a heated conversation between the mayor, the chief of police and the mayor pro tem, during which the chief was accused of sensationalizing and choreographing portions of the meeting.
Mayor Pro Tem Robert Foxworth asked Chief of Police Wayne Digby to present some statistics to the council at Monday’s meeting to let the council know where the police department stood after the recent furlough of one of its officers due to the city’s financial crisis. Foxworth asked Digby if the services to the city were being affected by the cut and if calls had picked up.
According to Digby, the department has spread itself so thin they are unable to keep up with the ever-increasing amount of calls in the city, especially on Ivy Street.
"We’ve spread our forces so thin we just can’t do things the way we did. Service is lacking but that’s just the way it is and there is nothing we can do about it."
Foxworth asked what was being done to quell the gathering of large crowds late into the night and Digby told him "absolutely nothing" was being done because there are no laws on the books that address loitering and prowling that would allow officers to place people under arrest.
Digby told the council and residents of the city that were in attendance of recent incidents where people had been robbed in the area, where grandmothers had been threatened with sledgehammers and where people had been congregating and "raising hell" into the wee hours of the morning.
According to statistics produced by the chief, in the last 45 days, the southeast part of the county, which includes Porterdale, had received 726 calls for service. Of those calls, 618 were out of Porterdale.
Mayor Bobby Hamby asked if that number included traffic calls and Digby told him that it was all calls.
"People are toting guns around here that don’t need to be toting guns," Digby said, speaking not only of the criminal element but of fed-up citizens as well. "Somebody’s going to get shot. Somebody’s fixing to get killed and we’ve got to nip it in the bud right now or we might as well give it to them."
Hamby reminded Digby that Porterdale has an agreement with the city of Covington saying the city will send an officer to assist when Porterdale needs one.
City attorney Tim Chambers said he would work on getting something ready for the council to see at their upcoming work session which would make loitering and prowling an arrestable offense.
Foxworth asked Digby if adding one officer to the force would help and Digby said he believed it would, telling the council the furloughed officer answered roughly four calls per shift.
"I know our budget is suffering right now," said Councilwoman Linda Finger. "But I would like for the council to give the chief permission to get that officer back."
Foxworth proposed a solution to their financial woes that would allow them to rehire the officer, a tax anticipation note (TAN) loan. According to Foxworth, City Manager Tom Fox – who was not in attendance due to a back injury – had spoken with BB&T and found they could get a $100,000 loan at 3.75 interest rate that would carry the city out until the end of the year.
The loan would have to be paid back by Dec. 31 and since it is the assumption the city will receive roughly $200,000 in taxes they would make enough once that money was collected to pay the loan back.
"With the crime that’s going on we’ve got to do something," Foxworth said. "I would rather go into debt than face an officer’s family because he was out there on call and was shot or beat to death by these thugs around our town. We have to protect our citizens."
Weighing the facts
Councilwoman Kay Piper spoke up, saying the city was in a financial crisis with a large shortfall. Having anticipated roughly $150,000 in sewer taps, the city received nothing when the economy began a decline and no homes were built in the city.
"I also discovered," she said. "That without the city knowing this, designated funds in the recreation fund had been taken out and put in the general fund and spent. So the city already owes the designated funds that should not have been used and we have to pay that back as soon as possible and that’s $126,000 we’re already in debt."
According to Piper the city will be depending on the tax revenues to pay off their expenses and if they use them for other purposes they are "just digging the hole even deeper."
"All I can tell you is the city’s about broke," said Piper. "And we’re already starting off next year owing plus possibly not having enough in the budget to meet the expenses of next year. And to go in debt and use money we’re going to need to survive for this… I just feel like it would wrong to go into debt like this."
Hamby added that Fox had reportedly told him that day that a TAN loan would work in the immediate future but it would force the council to raise taxes next year by one mil in order to have enough tax revenue to repay the loan.
"The public works department had already stepped up and done a tremendous amount of cuts," Hamby said. "We had asked that each department do a 20 percent cut and public works cut 37 percent. I don’t want to sound negative but the police department cutting one person is basically only cutting 12 percent… My recommendation, along with that of the city manager, is that we do not do this loan."
At that, Foxworth became visibly agitated, saying Fox had spoken with him and told him "it would be great to do this loan." Adding that if the economy turned around they would not need to raise taxes next year.
"That’s true," said Hamby. "But that’s a big If."
"I don’t mean to be ugly chief," Hamby said, addressing Digby. "But I think you have sensationalized some of those statistics you passed out," he said, his voice raising. "I’d also like to say we have ordinances on that book that should address most of these problems and if we don’t then what you should do is go through the city manager. But bringing it up in a council meeting is not a professional way to do it."
"I was asked a question and I was answering that question," Digby replied, equally heated.
"I know you were," Hamby said. "I also know that some of this is choreographed for tonight’s show and I am disappointed in the way it was done. The reality is the city is in financial trouble and we can’t afford to go out and borrow money so we can rehire your officer and give you the take home cars when the rest of the city is suffering. The police department needs to suck it up and go out and do the best job they can with what they have."
Digby fired back saying, "I didn’t ask for the cars back and I didn’t ask for the officer back. I gave you stats. I was asked for information and I’ve got it. I can also show you where we do 56 percent more work than the city of Covington too. And that’s a fact."
Foxworth jumped in adding "I got the little point where you said this was choreographed," he said to Hamby. "And none of this was choreographed."
"I know what’s been going on," Hamby said. "And that’s a different story. What I’m saying is there’s procedures to bring this thing up and it shouldn’t be done like this. This is just a show. We cannot afford to do this loan."
Foxworth shot back at Hamby, telling him a public meeting was not the time or place to chastise the chief of police, saying the mayor should have waited to voice his complaints. He then questioned where the city manager had been during the week.
"He’s not here. So who is in charge? Who is running this town? Tom [Fox] is from his house on the phone and half the time you can’t get in touch with him," Foxworth said.
Finger spoke up and told Digby she appreciated the information being brought to the council so they had what they needed to make intelligent decisions.
"I will be the first one to say I do understand that even if you went through the channels the mayor is telling you – to call Tom [Fox] and go through Tom – nine times out of 10 it’s lost. Tom doesn’t follow though on a lot of things that people ask him to do. That can be taken any way that anyone wants to take it. But Tom doesn’t wear a hat in the police department anymore, you do."
Foxworth interrupted, addressing Hamby again, "for you to sit here and chastise him – he’s protecting this town – he and his officers are protecting this town."
"I know they are," said Hamby. "All our city workers," he began, but was cut off by Finger who said "I think the garbage service do a great job but they aren’t protecting us."
"If they weren’t picking up the garbage you’d notice," remarked Hamby.
Councilwoman Arline Chapman spoke up, informing everyone that Fox was out with a herniated disk and had been working from home. She added she thought it improper to speak about members of the council when they were not there to defend themselves.
"I talked to him today," said Foxworth. "And he called me Bobby [Hamby]. I asked him if he knew who he was talking to and he said ‘I’m sorry Robert, I’m on drugs."
Foxworth then made a motion which was immediately seconded by Finger to allow Digby to rehire his furloughed officer, saying he more than pays for himself with his activities.
"That’s not totally true," Hamby said. "These aren’t funds that stay in our coffers. If we hire him back, he is not going to pay for his salary it’s just going to put the city in deeper financial troubles."
Foxworth replied that the city needed to look at getting the TAN loan in order to carry the city through.
"This is really a moral dilemma for me," said Chapman. "I respect what the mayor and Kay [Piper] have said but I also have great faith in our police chief and I’m going to vote yes because I just feel that’s what I have to do."
Piper said that she agreed there was a need for another officer but could not vote in favor of hiring another officer.
"When I balance my checkbook at the end of the month I cannot spend money that I don’t have hoping that something’s going to come in to replace it."
In a 3-1 vote, the council agreed to rehire the officer and use money from a TAN loan to pay for his salary.