By Billy Corriher
The Riverdale City Council voted Wednesday night to allow City Manager Billy Beckett to approve a "separation agreement" between Police Chief Mike Edwards and the city of Riverdale.
The move comes after months of allegations of racial discrimination and harassment in the Police Department, but council members said the decision was mutual.
"This was something he wanted to do, too," Councilwoman Michelle Bruce said. "It was a mutual understanding."
Bruce said she doesn't know if pressure from local civil rights groups led Edwards to agree to step down.
Councilwoman Wanda Wallace said the council has been discussing the move since February. Edwards has been with the Police Department since 2000 and his last day at work was Wednesday.
"It's all about reconstructing the department," she said.
The council had originally wanted to establish a public safety committee to look into improving the department, but Mayor Phaedra Graham didn't appoint the committee because she wasn't sure it was within her power.
The council selected Maj. Greg Barney, who was recently promoted from captain, as interim police chief.
"With so many things going on, and some things in the background of the other officers, we decided (Barney) was probably the best one," Wallace said.
Wallace said Barney was chosen because he is an officer with a good reputation and the ability to work with both white and black officers.
Wallace said Edwards was planning to retire this summer anyway.
Edwards could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Dexter Matthews, president of the Clayton County branch of the NAACP, said the council's actions were "a good start."
"I think a change was needed and this might be a way to correct the problems," Matthews said. "Hopefully, this will not be the only change made."
Edwards has been facing pressure from some in the community to step down since he placed Capt. Philip Neely on administrative leave March 13. Neely claims his suspension was in retaliation for speaking out publicly about racism in the Police Department.
Matthews said the NAACP wants Neely reinstated. The organization also wants an investigation to determine whether other officers were unfairly terminated, he said.
The city should also take steps to end harassment and discrimination within the Police Department, he said.
After black officers came forward with allegations of discrimination, the city requested an investigation last year from the U.S. Department of Justice and an independent consulting firm. The reports found that black officers believed they had been discriminated against and that they had received unfair treatment. Edwards and the council took action on some of the reports' recommendations.