Interim city manager going to work early

By Billy Corriher

After weeks of dealing with personnel issues in the police department, the Riverdale City Council decided to bring in interim City Manager Sylvester Murray earlier than expected.

Councilwoman Wanda Wallace said the council wants Murray and his co-manager, Ulysses Ford, to start before City Manager Billy Beckett leaves on April 23 so the city can deal with any personnel problems.

Beckett announced he was leaving his post after clashing with Mayor Phaedra Graham when she took office. The interim manager or next manager will work with the council on selecting a police chief to replace former Chief Mike Edwards, who resigned after weeks of criticism from civil rights groups for suspending Capt. Phillip Neely, an officer who spoke out publicly about racial discrimination in the department.

"(Murray) can go ahead and take whatever necessary steps we need to get the police department going," Wallace said.

Ruffin said the council will also be interviewing candidates for a permanent city manager next week.

Councilman Kenny Ruffin said the council got around 50 applicants to fill the manager position. He said the council doesn't have a deadline for selecting a manager but wants to take its time in light of the city's "delicate" situation.

"With the way things are? we want to make sure we have someone credible in all aspects of municipal government," he said.

Ruffin said the council also doesn't yet have a timetable for selecting a new police chief.

The council is conducting a national search for a new chief, but Ruffin said some officers within the department could apply.

"If we had a good candidate inside the department, we certainly wouldn't rule it out," he said.

The council will also vote Monday night on confirming interim Chief Greg Barney, who took over the department last week.

Barney said he is still thinking about if he will reinstate Neely, who has been at the center of the controversy at the department.

"I'm just looking at the situation right now," he said. "I want to be sure all our officers are treated fairly."

Barney said he also hasn't ruled out further personnel changes.

Neely said he hasn't heard from anyone about his status with the department, but he is glad the council appointed Barney as interim chief.

"I think it'll be good for the department," he said. "(The controversy) can take a lot of the focus away from what we need to be doing."