Council votes to discontinue discussions, now and in the future
By a 4-2 vote, the Stallings town council put an end to months of debate over public safety Monday, Oct. 11. Adopting Councilman Reed Esarove’s motion, the council agreed to eliminate any consideration of outsourcing police services to the sheriff’s office
The decision came after board members heard from several citizens and received a petition from the ‘Support the Stallings Police’ group containing the signatures of 1,130 residents and 219 non-residents. To put that in perspective, 1752 of the town’s nearly 14,000 residents voted in the November 2009 election.
Residents Mian Rex and Shawna Steele started the petition and Facebook sites.
“This [outsourcing option] is an utter mess and I wish you would fix this immediately,” Rex said. “A police presence provides more than you can put a price tag on.”
Other residents echoed her comments.
“I just think we have a great police department and they really go out of their way,” Stallings resident Tom Fontana said. “These guys really go after the criminals.”
Additionally, the town received a letter from the Callonwood Board of Directors, stating that a ‘local neighboring policing authority is in the best interest of the town.”
Residents also questioned how much of a benefit outsourcing would be, due to the costs involved.
“If you outsource, [the deputies] would be housed here, who’s gonna pay for those cars?” Stallings resident Larry Breedlove asked. “Who’s gonna pay for their housing? Are we gonna buy their uniforms?”
On a yearly basis, the police department takes up between 38 to 40 percent of the Stallings budget. As the town’s finance committee examines data en route to developing a five year capital plan, Mayor Lynda Paxton, Mayor Pro Tem Wyatt Dunn and Councilman Paul Frost all supported taking a look at outsourcing public safety needs, replacing the department with contract deputies from the sheriff’s office.
In the end, council members said they heard the people loud and clear.
“This is not about the money we’d save as a town, it’s [about] what the people want,” Councilman Harry Stokes said.
Councilwoman Renee Hartis said she felt it was a good idea to look at ways of saving money, but supported keeping the police department.
“Our police department is already in place,” Hartis said. “We had county [deputies before 2003] and [Stallings] was more of a rural area then, it was very hard to get a response and if you got a response, you had to wait for it.”
Dunn questioned why the council should do away with the discussion, before even hearing from a majority of the town’s citizens.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Dunn said. “I think we ought to do the math. 1300 [people] does not equal a majority.” Without getting answers from a proposed town survey, Dunn felt the other residents of the town were being ignored. The town survey will go out Dec. 1 as planned, but any potential questions of keeping the police department would be eliminated.
“I believe we have heard from the majority,” council member Reed Esarove said, pointing out that anyone who endorsed the study of outsourcing had the same opportunities to generate a petition and chose not to.
Dunn and Frost questioned the logic of eliminating the outsourcing option, without getting answers from the sheriff as to cost, service levels or response times. The finance committee, which Frost chairs, sent a list of 32 questions to Sheriff Eddie Cathey’s office, looking for a response in the next two weeks.
“It may be he’s willing to take on our police officers [and] give them raises,” Frost said. “We need to get all the facts What harm is there in as council [learning] the whole picture?”
Frost asked the council how many of them had answers to all of the questions involved with outsourcing, while also pointing out that not everyone felt contracting with the sheriff’s office was a bad thing. He referenced the petition drive in Indian Trail to support keeping the sheriff’s deputies, which generated just over 800 signatures from the town of over 30,000.
“When I ran for office, I promised professionalism and to think things through,” Frost said. “My intentions were [to] gather all the facts.”
CMPD says no thanks
Another issue which would have made outsourcing problematic is how the town would provide policing for residents in the Mecklenburg County section of Stallings. Barring an interlocal agreement, which would have to be negotiated between the sheriff’s office and Charlotte Mecklenburg Police, Union County deputies have no jurisdiction and can’t patrol Mecklenburg streets.
Town Manager Brian Matthews had sent a letter to CMPD officials, asking their thoughts on the matter.
Charlotte assistant city manager Eric Campbell responded in a letter dated Sept. 28, stating that the department wasn’t interested.
“Chief Monroe and I have evaluated your request that the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department provide contract police services for a portion of the town,” Campbell wrote. “Unfortunately, we feel it is not currently feasible for CMPD to provide police services to your jurisdiction.”
The problem, Campbell said, is that CMPD was afraid residents would have to suffer through long response times, as officers would have to be dispatched and go through Matthews to reach Stallings.
Stallings Mayor Lynda Paxton pointed out the manager had not been instructed to get information from Charlotte.
“[The] council never authorized the manager to request contractual services from CMPD for Mecklenburg parcels,” she said. “While CMPD has indicated a lack of interest, that may mean they would be quite willing to cooperate in an inter-local agreement with Union County [deputies].”
She also pointed out that no one had asked Matthews or Mint Hill police if they would be willing to contract for some of those areas.
The letter to CMPD was part of a larger issue Paxton had with the manager’s involvement in the outsourcing debate. On Friday, Oct. 8, Matthews released a 17 page document, detailing information he collected regarding the debate over outsourcing. The document, which contradicted some of the Mayor’s previous claims in her articles for the Weekly and presentation to the Public Safety Committee, was not asked for by the town council in any previous vote since August that UCW could find. Instead, council member Thelma Privette said she had asked Brian to generate the document, to clarify some points. It is not however the usual town policy for one council member to request the manager to draw up the information. Usually that’s voted on by the board. The July 28, 2008 council minutes detail a similar situation, where then council member Barbara Ann Price asked staff to investigate a Planning Board member that she believed was engaging in illegal political activity.
“Matthews noted that the Council had previously set procedure that an individual of the Council could not make a request that would cost significant staff time or resources without the entire Council’s approval,” minutes from the July 28, 2008 council meeting state.
In the 17 page document, Matthews outlines other reasons than those stated why the police department was created. The opposing argument has been that the department was created due to a possible regional mall that never materialized, along with annexation of Mecklenburg County parcels and anticipated growth. In addition, he said dissatisfaction with the sheriff’s office, a lack of identity and the cost of outsourcing played a part.
“Contract deputies frequently responded to calls outside of the town limits for other jurisdictions that had their own contract deputies,” Matthews wrote. “The council felt like nothing more than a revenue stream and not a partner.”
He also stated in 2003 the town reached out regarding possibly contracting with Mecklenburg County when preparing to annex Shannamara and were told the bill would be in excess of $500,000. Paxton meanwhile points to the manager’s 2003 budget message, which states the cost of contracting with Mecklenburg County was estimated between $200,00 to $250,000.
Matthews points out in his document however that the way Paxton compares Stallings with the budgets of Matthews and Monroe is inaccurate.
Police safety takes up more of the Stallings budget because the town doesn’t have a fully staffed public works department like Monroe or a public recreation staff like Matthews. Stallings only has one fully functioning department, Matthews wrote, and that’s the police