By Ed Brock
A bill proposed by State Rep. Victor Hill, D-College Park, to allow a referendum on combining county police departments with their corresponding county sheriff's offices in 13 counties is not popular with Clayton County law enforcement heads.
Also, some are questioning the motives behind the bill at this time.
Hill, who is a Clayton County police detective and a candidate for sheriff in Clayton County, said that 13 counties were not included in a 1992 law requiring a referendum be held before a county could form a county police force.
"The logic behind that is because the county police department is such an expensive item it shouldn't be put on voters without giving them a voice," Hill said. "All this bill does is give the voters a voice in whether they like things as they are or they want to enjoy the benefits that the other 146 counties presently enjoy in terms of savings."
Hill said that when the people are given the choice millions of dollars are saved, and he added that in the three referendums held since 1992 the people voted against forming a county police department.
"I believe we should do whatever the people want us to do because it's their money," Hill said.
Hill's boss Clayton County Police Chief Darrell Partain and his political opponents Sheriff Stanley Tuggle and Hill's fellow Clayton County Police officer and sheriff's candidate Joe Mack Eckler each spoke out against the bill for a variety of reasons.
The people should have their say, Partain said.
"The problem I have is that every four years officers would be making career choices in both the police and sheriff departments," Partain said, referring to the part of the bill that states the referendum would be held at least every four years. "That would be very detrimental to the career choices of officers."
Also, Partain said that the police department and the sheriff's office perform very different duties and currently the two agencies highly respect each other.
"This bill would cause quite a bit of contention between the two," Partain said.
Partain also said he couldn't say if Hill, who recently was moved to the department's evidence room after being denied a request for a 40 day leave while he served in the state House, had a personal motive for introducing the bill.
"One could only surmise why the bill has suddenly been introduced by Detective Victor Hill," Partain said. "(The evidence room) has less impact on call volume and immediate demand on an investigator."
Hill had previously called the move an attempt by Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray to punish him for refusing to vote in the General Assembly the way Bray wanted him to vote. Hill said he has a good relationship with Partain, although they "agree to disagree" on some issues.
"If it was something I was doing to be vindictive I wouldn't put it to a vote of the people, I would let the legislature vote on it," Hill said.
Tuggle said he has to approach the bill from two different perspectives, personally and as the chairman of the legislative committee for the Georgia Sheriffs Association.
"Personally I think the bill is self-serving and irresponsible," said Tuggle.
Previously Tuggle has advocated consolidating the Clayton County Police Department with his office, citing the savings that would create for the taxpayers, and he said that he still thinks that's a good idea for this county. But he said that at the time he proposed that the previous police chief, Ronnie Clackum, was about to retire and Tuggle had studied the issue carefully and had a plan for the consolidation.
"It's not responsible to just put a question like that on the ballot and ask people to vote one way or another," Tuggle said. "It's kind of like putting on the ballot do we need more stop signs or traffic lights. If they vote yes, then do they want more lights or signs? Where do they want them? How will we pay for it?"
Such a move must be done with the active participation of the governing authority, Tuggle said, so the transition could be well planned.
"Without doing all of that, to just arbitrarily ask the question and have the governing authority just pick up the pieces, you're not going to save any money," Tuggle said.
The government approach of "one size fits all" doesn't work with this issue, Tuggle said, and while the people should decide, they have to be educated and informed to answer the question appropriately.
As chairman of the GSA legislative committee, Tuggle said, he would bring the bill to next week's committee meeting and they would discuss it before bringing it before the full GSA body for a vote. Whether the GSA votes to support the bill or reject it or make no stand on it, Tuggle said he would stand firm with them.
"I'm going to treat his bill like we treat all bills," Tuggle said.
Eckler also said that consolidation would not work in the 13 counties that currently have both a police and sheriff's department because those counties are in the metropolitan Atlanta area and have high populations.
"The jobs are just completely different and there's just too much volume for the sheriff's constitutionally mandated duties and the police department duties together," Eckler said.
Also, consolidation would put too much power in the hands of one person, Eckler said.
Hill said he wants input from Partain, Tuggle and Eckler and he added that the bill is still being worked on. He especially liked Partain's point, Hill said, and would like to work with him on making the referendum a one-time vote.
As for Tuggle's point, Hill said the bill would allow a six-month period after a vote to consolidate the two agencies, plenty of time for planning, he said.
Other counties with both a police department and sheriff's office are Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Henry, Polk, Floyd, Dougherty, Glynn, Chatham, Athens-Clarke, Muscogee and Gwinnett.