Three Hour Council Meeting Leads to Unanswered Questions Within CPD
Tuesday night’s city council meeting began with the usual routine of approving the minutes and agenda. However, the tone of the meeting quickly changed when Ward Five Councilman Kabir Karriem told the council he felt recent comments made by Supervisor Harry Sanders were “disparaging” and Karriem asked the council to support him in demanding a public apology from Sanders.
The comments that Karriem were referencing were from a speech Sanders made during last week’s meeting of the Rotary club. Addressing the crowd from his position as guest speaker, Sanders said, “We’ve got boards in the city with people who don’t know how to tie their shoes.”
Karriem told the council Tuesday evening that he felt the board has “gone above and beyond the call of duty trying to be admirable in its board appointments and I think the comments that were made were not warranted. We have some good folks on these boards. I feel that we are owed a public apology.”
Mayor Robert Smith quickly supported Karriem, saying, “I support your request.”
Karriem’s demand for an apology opened the door for Councilman Charlie Box to add his two cents about the board appointments in question. Box told the board that he felt there should be a “board orientation policy” for those who want to be appointed to various boards within the city. Box went on to explain that the city’s attorney, Jeff Turnage, could educate the board members in groups, and familiarize them with ethics laws and what is and what is not permissible as far as their capabilities as board members are concerned.
This led to a back and forth between Box and Smith as Smith asked Box if he felt imposing a board orientation would “discourage” potential applicants. Box responded that no, he did not feel that, instead making the argument that all board members should be “trained and qualified to serve.”
Councilman Fred Stewart told Councilman Box that “as a councilman, I don’t need anyone to advise me. I take full responsibility.”
Karriem then steered the conversation back to the topic of the letter demanding a public apology from Sanders and the vote passed 4-2,with Box and Gavin voting against it.
However, Box would not shake the idea of the proposed orientation saying,“I don’t see how anyone can object to someone being better trained.”
The mayor asked Box, “Why all of a sudden now? Because of what Supervisor Sanders said? Seems mighty strange to me but you go ahead and express yourself.” He added “ It seems to me you have an issue” to which Box responded, “No sir, you’re making it an issue.”
Councilman Gavin interrupted in an attempt to clarify what Councilman Box was suggesting by telling the council adopting a board orientation program “would not change the process at all. It’s a structured way of educating people.”
Stewart then quipped, “I feel that whatever board they serve on that’s their (the board’s) responsibility.
The board then voted on the issue of starting such a program and it tied 3-3,with the mayor breaking the vote, killing the motion.
In other news, the council heard of Kabir Karriem’s brother, Kamal Karriem, about his efforts within the church to “curtail crime.” Kamal Karriem was asking the support of the council in his faith based movement, and explained to the council exactly what his initiative entails. According to Karriem, 65 perfect of those who get out of jail go back to jail within three years because they are unable to find work. Karriem says the “mechanism of survival” kicks in, with the former inmate now resulting in whatever means necessary “in order for him to stay free.” He added, “He’s going to get into the underground economy so he can keep his feet on the street. We’re trying to curb that activity.”
Karriem says the 12 week program involves 133 churches throughout the state, all of them reaching out to help educate those who have been incarcerated and get them jobs within their community saying ,“There is honor in meaningful work.”
The mayor and city council told Kamal Karriem they supported his efforts and wished him the best of luck.
The meeting then moved on to the highly debated topic of approving promotions and lateral hiring within the Columbus Police Department. The issue has been a hot button topic, first being approved by council in closed executive session, then moving on to the civil service commission where officers openly voiced their outrage, and then back to the council for reconsideration.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Chief McQueen addressed the council saying, “This is not about the people (at the department) but there has got to be a greater pool to choose from.” McQueen said there is “no latitude for variation” within the rules for the promotions process. The chief cited the example that if an officer were to be suspended for 60 days without pay, if he or she scored a top score during the promotions process, they would still be eligible for promotion.
However, when asked when the last time an officer was suspended for such an extensive period of time, McQueen could not provide an example.
The chief continued on saying that of the 31 people up for promotions, only seven passed the written exam. Of the entire promotions process, McQueen said, “There is no pass or fail. Knowledge retention and growth is measured by test taking.” He also noted, however, that while there were 31 officers taking the written test, there were not nearly enough books or study materials provided. A total of five books were supplied to the group, forcing the officers to share and only have access to the material for two weeks at a time.
McQueen further said there is “no leeway with the Civil Service Rules and Regulations” and asked the council to approve the motion as they previously approved it in January.
Councilman Box interjected and told the mayor and council that he felt the promotions process and lateral hiring were two separate issues saying , “We’ve got two different things going on. Lateral hiring is a totally different thing.”
Box then asked the chief if he felt that the idea of lateral hiring was “destroying morale.” He continued, saying, “These men 100 percent supported you and you’ve turned your back on them.”
Box reminded McQueen of January’s Civil Service Hearing where McQueen told the board members that he was looking at the option of lateral hiring for one specific position—namely a position in the Criminal Investigations Division. Speaking to McQueen, Box told the chief, “You’ve changed your mind.”
Officers with the CPD then had a chance to voice their opinions and over half a dozen of them got up to voice concerns to the council.
Officer Wade Beard reiterated his point that he made at January’s civil service hearing, referring to the major reasoning behind McQueen’s hiring. According to Beard, being a “local” was a plus for McQueen because he knew the streets and the people. Beard said, “I agree we needed a local man for chief. We all supported McQueen. If he’s good enough, why aren’t we?” Beard also informed the council that there had not been a promotion for sergeant since 1994 or corporal since 1998. He added that he himself has “been on the corporal list since 98.”
Beard’s frustrations with the lack of promotions echoed from the other officers as well.
Councilman Charlie Box addressed the stagnant promotional process telling the officers, “We’ve approved promotions. Why have we not promoted since 1996?”
Councilman Box was informed that three were promoted to sergeant in 2006 to which he shockingly replied, “We haven’t had a promotion since ‘06?”
According to the mayor not a single officer was promoted during former Chief Joe St John’s tenure.
Officer Greg Harstad took to the podium and conveyed his frustrations with the image that police officers have. Harstad believes that the negative image is directly related to the community believing that there are not enough qualified officers at the department, feeding into the impression that lateral hiring is necessary.
Harstad, a retired Lt. Colonel with the Air Force and veteran police officer, said that despite his experience, he started at the bottom as a patrolman because “it was the standard and I accepted that. To change it now…I don’t accept that.”
Harstad also told the council that officers at the CPD are not being informed about the promotional process and how lateral hiring would directly affect them saying, “The guys on the line aren’t getting the information.”
Captain Fred Shelton then approached the council and expressed his concerns over lateral hiring, particularly as it pertains to the assistant chief of police position. McQueen is requesting that a second chief of police position be added. The newly formed position will not affect current assistant chief Joe Johnson. Shelton says, that if lateral hiring is brought into effect ,“I’m stuck. Assistant Chief Joe Johnson isn’t retiring anytime soon and there’s nowhere for me to go. I’m stuck.”
[McQueen addressed the issue of the hiring of a second assistant chief after Tuesday night’s meeting. According to McQueen, the lateral hiring proposal that he submitted to the civil service commission has a stipulation that states the assistant chief must be hired from within the department. SF]
Officer Terrie Songer addressed the council, pleading, “Let these promotions go through. If Chief St. John had taken the initiative we could have had a year’s experience by now. Please. Let these promotions go through.” Songer then addressed the morale at the department saying, “It might have been at an ‘all-time low’ before but it’s lower now. “
The officers’ sentiments could be summed up by Officer Lance Luckey when he said “If I die in this city I would do it doing what I love. We do it so one day we can be in the chief’s shoes. We are losing the chance to go up the rank because of lateral hiring. We want to be considered first, foremost.”
The council voted 3-3 with Councilmen Taylor, Stewart and Karriem voting to approve and Mickens, Box and Gavin voting against. Mayor Smith broke the tie, voting to approve and the motion passed. The issue will now be taken before the civil service commission this Thursday night.
[It should be noted that before yesterday’s city council meeting and subsequent approval of lateral hiring, an agenda for the civil service committee’s hearing had already been printed with the issue of promotions and lateral hiring listed as item “B.” SF]
When asked Wednesday evening when the promotions process would begin if approved by the commission, McQueen responded, “I’m not promoting anyone. In order to promote people, I would have to abide by rules that I don’t agree with.”
Thirty one officers’ names are on the list to be promoted.