By Monroe Roark
The formation of the
Stockbridge Police Department will move no farther over the next
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
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
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
Three members of the Herald’s
editorial staff were present at the council meeting for Alarcon’s
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
Among those in attendance at the meeting were
Thompson, Ford, Gantt, county commission chairman Smith and former
Stock-bridge mayor Lee Stuart.