• Editorial •
That is what, according to several sources, Columbus Police Chief Selvain McQueen was asked during the executive session of the City Council meeting Tuesday evening. McQueen reportedly donned a big smile and responded with, “I can’t say I would turn down a job if they offered double the money” -or something along those lines. Although McQueen refused to comment on what happened in executive session that evening, he did say that he has not “filled out any applications” for any jobs.
Rumors have been swirling around CPD for several weeks that McQueen has been shopping his services to other departments in an attempt to escape the madness that is Columbus politics. McQueen, who can only be considered as Mayor Robert Smith’s hand picked successor to former former chief Joseph St. John, has reportedly butted heads with the strong-willed mayor on several occasions and has lost favor with several councilmen who were his most ardent supporters before his promotion, including Gene Taylor and Kabir Karriem.
The Columbus Police Department is a mess,and some of that blame has to fall on McQueen. He has taken heat from the Mayor and Council this past week after a Commercial Dispatch article by reporter Sarah Fowler noted that his investigators had only presented one case to the Grand Jury the previous week. McQueen told The Dispatch (and the Council) that due to a lack of experience in Investigations, he is personally checking each case before it is brought to Grand Jury. McQueen shouldn’t take all the blame, though. The city has run through three Chiefs in relatively short order, leaving splinter groups of veteran officers who have allegiances and ill will to and against McQueen. Add that to Smith’s “strong management style” and you’ve got problems.
“I feel it is better that we present cases that are solid and are going to get an indictment than just throw a bunch of stuff up that isn’t ready” McQueen told The Packet yesterday. That speaks volumes on the confidence McQueen has in his team. Whether its attributed to incompetence, staffing or lack of training, it still sucks(for everyone.)
The honeymoon is definitely over for McQueen. After St.John was fired, he took over in the summer of 2011 and experienced the most deadly six months the city had ever seen. Shootings and murders were commonplace in the beginning, but the violent crimes significantly slowed down in 2012. McQueen has lost a lot of veteran cops during his tenure, many to retirement and many more that either don’t like his leadership or the heavy handed style of Mayor Smith.
I spend a lot of time around our cops, and I can tell you that they are discouraged. They don’t place all the blame on McQueen. Whether it is true or not, the perception is that the department belongs to the Mayor. Officers fear that if they arrest the wrong person- someone who has connections to Smith- that they will suffer. Rumors of cases being dropped, “retired to the files,” or dismissed altogether are commonplace with the veteran officers that remain. Our Police have no confidence in our Municipal Court- that is not a rumor.
When a department head filed a grievance against Mayor Smith, other department heads and workers were questioned by the council and asked if Smith had bullied them. What they say in person or behind closed doors, they were afraid to tell the Council. The Council felt they could not do anything to Smith without evidence.
As a resident of the city, I cannot think of anything more frightening than a police force scared to do their jobs- and that is exactly what we have. We have a City Council that was designed to be much stronger than the Mayor, and it has been in previous years, but not this council. The elected leaders of our city either go in line with Smith’ s wishes or cower down when he confronts them. For years, Councilmen Gene Taylor and Fred Stewart have been happy to grant Smith’s wishes and step in line when asked to, because they need his support for elections. That may change in the near future as Taylor and Smith have had a bit of a falling out. Taylor(allegedly) voted against suspending two CPD officers who were accused of misconduct shortly after Smith’s daughter was arrested last October. Smith, according to several sources, lambasted the elder statesman for not voting to suspend the officers. Some sources say they have kissed and made up while others say they are no longer best buddies. Either way, the relationship isn’t what it used to be.
The most common misconception I hear from citizens and bloggers (mostly in the white community) is that all of our elected African American officials are working together for some common goal or diabolical scheme. Wake up, folks. Robert Smith is in charge. Then there is everyone else. Smith manages the city efficiently and with a strong fist. He keeps downtown clean and free of (most) criminals. We have more plants and flowers than you can count— which is what most folks care about. They aren’t worried about Council meetings or the CVB- they may say they are, but the three people in the audience at each of the meetings tells a different story.
For the record, I don’t think Mayor Smith is some evil monster and Columbus is not an easy town to manage. I can only tell you what most of the employees of the city tell me, and that is that they live in absolute fear of crossing his path. I think Smith’s reputation as a bully carries such great weight that I doubt he will have a serious opponent for this election.The only democrat who would likely contend with him would be Supervisor Leroy Brooks, but Brooks has absolutely nothing to gain with that fight and doesn’t have the influence in the city he once did now that Smith is so strong. Not one politico I’ve spoken with thinks a republican or independent stands a chance.
I personally think, much like St. John before him, McQueen had no idea what he was getting into. I’m sure he expected some meddling in his affairs, but not the mess he finds himself in today. McQueen has served his 25 years and can retire anytime he wants to and just move on to another department with slightly less drama. If I was him, I would run for the hills. If he does, the department will fall even further into chaos and more veteran cops will leave before a replacement is found. Or maybe the City Council will hire someone from outside who shakes up the joint. When the time comes to select a new Chief, lets hope the next council is made of more leaders, and less cowards.
If you want people to like you, just make them feel safe and give them flowers. It works for my wife. Happy Valentines Day
P.S. Even though columnist Ron Williams mentioned it this week, I would like to echo the thought that CMSD Superintendent Martha Liddell was absolutely out of line when she called Birney Imes III a racist in her email to him last week. It was a cowardice response to a legitimate complaint. Birney and I aren’t always on the same page about a lot of things- A LOT OF THINGS – but he is far from a racist and there is no bigger supporter of the abysmal local public school system than Birney and The Dispatch. Dr. Liddell routinely does not return my phone calls (Two of the last six calls to be exact), but maybe that’s because I’m white… or pink… or beige. Or maybe its because she is busy, and that’s fine.