Committee looks at manpower study, attorney clarifies motion
No one’s free speech was taken away when the Stallings town council voted to discontinue discussion of outsourcing public safety services Oct. 11, according to the town’s attorney.
Town Attorney Melanie Cox also said the motion doesn’t prevent a town board member from raising the issue again.
After a majority of the council decided to “cease and desist” discussion of the outsourcing option, Mayor Linda Paxton and some town residents criticized the motion as designed to prevent council members from giving their opinion.
After several council members asked her opinion, Cox weighed in.
In a letter dated Oct. 22 to all council members, Cox wrote, “It is my opinion that the effect of the motion was to prevent town staff from spending any more time or resources on investigating the option of contracting with the Union County Sheriff’s Office. The motion as made by council member (Reed) Esarove does not and cannot prevent council members from asking that the issue be placed on a future agenda and discussing the matter further.”
Also, Cox wrote, the motion does not prevent anyone from speaking about the issue during the public-comment section of town meetings.
Her statements echo those of University of North Carolina School of Government legal expert Fleming Bell. While the matter could be put on the agenda, Bell said, a council majority also has the ability to temporarily suspend discussion.
“As I’ve said before, the issue is how long such an issue would be delayed,” Bell said. “Saying something is stopped ‘now and in the future’ is somewhat vague. If the issue is voted on and defeated again, council members can then take a vote to prevent it from coming back for a six-month period.”
On a yearly basis, the police department accounts for 38 to 40 percent of the Stallings budget. In August, the town agreed to look at public safety services and prepare a survey of town residents. Prior to that document going out, the public safety and finance committees were expected to weigh in, adding survey questions for the council’s approval and presenting reports. But as the weeks went by, police department supporters grew concerned over e-mails between the mayor and council members; a meeting between Paxton, council members and the sheriff; and talk of contracting for deputies.
At their meeting Monday, Oct. 25, members of the town’s Public Safety Committee asked Police Chief David Hearne to provide a manpower study. Committee members hope to get the staffing data by January so they can consider the study results and feedback from the citizen survey at the same time.
He and his staff have asked council members since 2004 to dictate the level of service they want to department to provide. “Give us the parameters and then hold us accountable for it,” he said.