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No Stockbridge PD for now

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  The formation of the Stockbridge Police Department will move no farther over the next seven weeks.

  That was made clear by Mayor Mark Alarcon at Monday night’s regular City Council meeting, the first since last week’s election that saw him finish fourth in his bid for a full term in that office.

  He said that out of respect for Mayor-Elect Tim Thompson and the two new councilmembers – Anthony Ford and Lakeisha Gantt – who will be coming on board in January, he would not go forward with any plans for the new department.

  He did not, however, waver in his belief that it should eventually happen.

  “I am 110 percent in favor of Stockbridge being responsible for its own police,” he said at the meeting. “We can afford it, and we should be protecting our own citizens.”

  He praised the efforts of the Henry County Police Department, which currently handles law enforcement in the city, but stressed that Stockbridge should be responsible for it solely. He also defended his and his staff’s work during the several months of the process.

  Alarcon used a portion of his opening remarks to blast the Henry Daily Herald, which he accused of continued misinformation regarding the police issue, particularly the mayor’s efforts to select a police chief.

  He said that if the paper believes the city has been so egregious in wrongdoing, then a representative of the state attorney general’s office should come in person to address the matter. Alarcon added that city officials have been in contact with the AG’s office to make certain their actions are appropriate.

  Three members of the Herald’s editorial staff were present at the council meeting for Alarcon’s pointed remarks.

  When the council met Oct. 21, the agenda included the naming of a police chief, but that item was taken off the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. Alarcon said after that meeting that the original field of applicants had been narrowed to five but he was not ready to recommend his choice to the council for approval.

  In the days following that meeting, city officials argued publicly with representatives of the Herald, which asserted that the city may have violated state open records law requiring that at least three finalists for the position be named publicly at least 14 days before a final decision is made. The paper devoted at least two news stories as well as an op-ed piece to the topic, while Stockbridge refuted its findings via press releases on its web site and Facebook page.

  The council voted in July, with only Alphonso Thomas in opposition, to take over responsibility for police services as part of a wide-ranging service delivery agreement with the county. Stockbridge is the largest city in Henry County and the only one without its own police department.

  Henry County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tommy Smith and District IV Commissioner Reid Bowman both confirmed that the current arrangement, through which the Henry County Police Department handles police services for Stockbridge, has not officially changed.

  “We’re in the same place we were this time last year,” said Smith. “The city has never officially put us on notice that they are going to make the change.”

  Much of the controversy over the police issue has been about how much the city pays Henry County for the services, which many citizens elsewhere in the county believe is too low, and what the cost would be for Stockbridge to take it over, which some Stockbridge residents believe is too high.

  City Manager David Milliron said in July that the city has been paying $500,000 per year through its agreement with the HCPD as well as other costs. A total of $1.2 million in cash was paid over a three-year period beginning in 2010 to coincide with the development of the Stockbridge precinct building, on the site of the old City Hall which the city paid another $1.2 million in renovation costs. The county leases the building for $1 per year, Milliron said.

  The current service delivery agreement is valid through 2014, but Milliron said that it is tied together with the intergovernmental agreement which expired at the end of 2012. Negotiations between the county and all four cities to adjust distribution of local option sales tax money after the 2010 Census also played a role in these decisions, as Stockbridge’s share of that pie will slightly increase.

  Alarcon has repeatedly said that the police change would be tax-neutral for Stockbridge taxpayers because the portion of their tax bill that currently is allocated for HCPD service would be redirected to pay for the city’s police force. That would be a revenue shift of about $2 million.

  Right now Stockbridge residents pay no city property tax.

  Because no formal agreement has been put in place to change the police arrangement, city leaders can simply do nothing and let the issue die for now, leaving the HCPD to continue patrolling Stockbridge streets. On the other hand, there is still time for the current mayor and council to move forward with several key initiatives that would put the formation of a new police department in motion, but Alarcon put that to rest Monday night.

  Among those in attendance at the meeting were Thompson, Ford, Gantt, county commission chairman Smith and former Stock-bridge mayor Lee Stuart.

 

 

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