Dear Editor: Covering the South as a newspaper reporter for eight years and more, I never saw a city or town without a readily identifiable police station. Yet, that will be so of Oxford if its police force is scattered among other city functions on two floors in a new city hall.
That's the plan now, thanks at least in part to the apathy of the town's citizens, The Covington News and The Newton Citizen. All have been mostly absent from City Council meetings, including the council's public hearing last Monday on the 2009 city budget.
True, Oxford now has not one but two police stations. However, one of those on Ga. Highway 81 houses Emory University's police, who police only university property.
The municipal police station sitting next door to the volunteer Fire Department will be gone once a new $1.4 million city hall is finished. But, that doesn't have to be the case.
There is ample space for a one-story city hall and police station on the site where the present City Hall now stands. One building with a wall between the two could serve the police station without stripping it of its identity or mixing the diverse cultures and functions of clerks, cops and citizens.
A City Hall of one story would save the money of taxpayers and ratepayers. (The latter pay one of the highest electrical rates charged by the state municipal system.) No $70,000 or so would go for the elevator required by building codes, not to mention the cost of a stairwell.
One story also would dispense with the need to build, equip and pay for two offices for the police chief to provide a "police presence" on the ground floor.
The city Planning Commission, which operates through a father-son combination represented on both Commission and City Council, recommends otherwise. It insists that a two-story structure would be more pleasing aesthetically and would leave space on the property for a "tot lot," parking and green space.
The Commission opposes extending the present City Hall building's "footprint" even though that was the Council's stated purpose for buying the land a longer footprint would cover.
Citizen disinterest in these developments and the City Council's failure to fill a police vacancy despite rising crime brought on by the economic meltdown suggest a return to the bad old days.
Oxford then was a one-cop town where law enforcement was fobbed off as something of a joke called "our thin, blue line."