Georgiana mayor, police dept. remain at odds, though hope remains for reconciliation
Published 11:13 am Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Former Georgiana Police Department chief David Scruggs’ resignation is official as of Georgiana’s special called meeting Tuesday evening, as well as that of six other police officers with the department.
But Scruggs said that, under the right circumstances, he could be convinced to return.
The Georgiana City Council passed two other motions–one requesting that the attorney general or district attorney conduct an investigation of the city and the police department, and a second request that a forensic audit be conducted of the police department, the municipal court system and the city.
Scruggs said that, regarding at least one development, he was pleased with the evening’s outcome.
“I’m very pleased with the city council’s decision on bringing the attorney general’s office in to do an internal investigation of the city, along with the police department,” Scruggs said. “If that involves all of the officers that resign, I’m fine with it, and I’ll cooperate with them any way they need me to in the investigation.”
Scruggs offered his resignation Monday following administrative differences between the police department and Georgiana mayor Jerome Antone.
Scruggs had served in the position for nearly three years, and he said that the contention between the two offices has been going on at least as long, if not longer.
The biggest problem, according to Scruggs, was having the mayor constantly undermine the police department’s authority.
“There were certain people you could police, and certain people you couldn’t,” Scruggs said. “If you pulled somebody over, the first thing they’re going to tell you is that they’re calling the mayor.
“When you tell the officers that, when you turn around, the mayor’s calling me because one of the officers have got someone pulled over that he knows and I’ve got to call that officer and ask ‘what’s going on?’
“And the way I feel about the guys that I have working under me is I respected them and their decision to police. It was my position to give them a job and oversee them, and if I felt like they were violating the law by pulling anybody over for [nonsense], I wasn’t going to put up with it. You can ask officers—we tried to do everything by the book. And if it’s a written-down law in the codebook, we enforced it, or we did our best to enforce it. But when the mayor’s second-guessing some of the laws written in stone, we’ve got problems with it. It’s making the officers and I think that we’re not capable of doing our jobs.”
Antone said that he considered it his duty to follow up on complaints from within the Georgiana community.
“Whenever I get something from the community or they complain, it’s my job to go to him,” Antone said. “If some citizens feel like they’ve been harassed, I say something to him about it.”
Despite the situation, Scruggs said that the differences were not entirely irreconcilable, though it would require a great deal of change before any true progress could be made.
“The mayor did ask me yesterday if I would come back to work. Basically, he told me that ‘I need you to come back to work.’ And I told him that I’m going to stand behind my guys that stood behind me and supported me. I didn’t ask any of these guys to walk out and resign with me because they’ve got families and bills to pay. I told him, and these are my exact words, that ‘me, you and those guys will sit down and have a meeting, and if we can come to a problem-solving conclusion here and get this worked out with everyone happy, we’ll come back to work.’
“That meeting has yet to happen. That was said Monday afternoon at 5 p.m. when I walked out of his office after being in there for the third time, and nothing has been worked out as of today. I have not had any contact with the mayor whatsoever today at all.
“If the city council comes to me within two weeks and asks me to come back as the police chief, I will decline, because prior problems will continue to be problems.
There has to be something written in stone and a guaranteed promise that if any of us decide to come back, there will not be any repercussions at all on any of the officers, me included.”
The motions were reached following an hour-long executive session that left a number of concerned citizens waiting outside of city hall. Despite the lengthy session, Antone said that there was no contentious debate among the city council members.
And though a number of Georgiana residents complained about their inability to voice their concerns surrounding the night’s issues during the special called session, Antone looked to spur on further participation in future, less controversial council meetings.
“I would truly hope that when we have regular city council meetings and try to take care of the business of the city that we would have a crowd like this,” Antone said.
“But when you get a crowd of two, three or four during a regular city council meeting, that bothers me. But when they think something’s going on and there’s action, they want to come in. Don’t come when you just want to cut up; come when you want to say something intelligent to help the city of Georgiana and how you can move the city forward.”
The Butler County Sherriff’s Office will continue its assistance for the next two weeks as Antone prepares to make recommendations to the city council on applicants for the vacant positions. The council aims to have its replacements by Nov. 7.