Politics

International Accreditation in Jeopardy When Simpsonville Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem Refuse to Sign a Budgeted Item Expenditure

A longtime policy in the city of Simpsonville has been that the Mayor would co-sign all checks. In the Mayor’s absence, the Mayor pro tem fills that role. It has also been a policy that the budget that has been approved in the previous year would be adhered to by the new Council and it is considered a City Ordinance upon final approval (second reading). However, that does not seem to be the case with the new Mayor Janice Curtis and Mayor pro tem Matthew Gooch. In a surprising move, both the Mayor and Mayor pro tem refused to sign a check that paid for International Police Accreditation, often referred to as National Accreditation. Once this was decided upon, they did not immediately motion to go to full council to reconsider this payment and/or the existing budget, which would have been the proper protocol. Instead, they have sat on this check for months until other council members held them accountable and made sure that it was addressed with the council as a whole. Now, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) payment is more than 90 days past due and the Simpsonville Police Department will be terminated from the International Accreditation process if it is not paid in full by March 15, 2016. Since it was passed by a majority of city council, the agreement to start the International Accreditation process was signed months ago. The Simpsonville Police Department has been in the “self-assessment� phase of the process for approximately 4 months. Hundreds of hours have been committed to this self-assessment, but now the entire process is in jeopardy of termination for failure to make payment.

One of the purposes of the accreditation program is to improve the delivery of law enforcement services by setting professional standards covering a wide range of best practices for law enforcement. Accreditation also improves operations accountability and raises civilian and employee confidence in the Police Department. Achieving International Accreditation is considered to meet the highest or the gold standard of law enforcement operation in all aspects.

Since taking office on January 12, 2016, the International Accreditation check has been sitting unsigned on the Mayor’s desk. They mayor has obvious questions about the necessity to attain international accreditation, but yet failed to act or try to find answers. Although the $11,000 check for the application fee was approved by the City Council in June of 2015 along with the Fiscal Year 2015 /2016 budget; it was brought to the Council at the February committee of the whole and open for discussion. After a lengthy debate it was unanimously approved to move forward as an agenda item for the March 8, 2016, regular City Council meeting. At that meeting, Councilwoman Sylvia Lockaby made a motion to approve the application and have the check signed. “It’s already been approved in the budget� said Lockaby.

Lockaby went on to say “it’s my understanding that since this has passed as a budget, we have no authority to refuse to sign this�. During city council meeting discussions, Police Chief Keith Grounsell was asked a series of questions by council members. His comments provoked an audience applause showing significant and overwhelming support for International Accreditation by the citizens of Simpsonville. The applause appeared to fall upon deaf ears of two councilmen, a councilwomen and the mayor.

City Attorney David Holmes was asked by Mayor Curtis if the Council could in fact amend the budget. The City Attorney said that they did have the right to change an existing budget. Councilwoman Braswell disagreed and stated that an ordinance is still not being followed and that it was the responsibility of the Council to honor their commitments and their oath. After a roll call vote, the motion failed by a vote of 4 to 3 with Councilwoman Sylvia Lockaby, Councilwoman Elizabeth Braswell and Councilman Taylor Graham voting for the motion, while Councilman Gooch, Councilwoman Jenn Hulehan, Councilman Ken Cummings and Mayor Curtis vote This means that the four council members all voted not to follow a city ordinance (i.e. approved budget for FY2015-2016) and allowed the Mayor and Mayor pro tem to continue to not sign the check to pay for International Accreditation.

City Councilman Graham added these comments after the meeting, “Regardless of whether Mr. Holmes believes they have the right to do so; I feel not only me, but the citizens of Simpsonville have been let down by the Mayor, and new and reelected council members on holding up the National Police Accreditation payment. While I do keep hope that their votes will change, by that time it is uncertain as to whether the SPD will be able to get back in the process in a timely manner. I know first-hand how important this is to the men & women of the SPD that serve regardless of who the elected officials are, day in and day out, and want to provide a superior service to the community…and now they feel as if their knees have been taken out from under them. The SPD morale has been kicked in the gut and is now very low! My concern now is that how many SPD Officers, new and Veteran’s alike, are going to say, ‘enough is enough’ because some of these elected officials care nothing about me, my life, my service, my dedication or my expectations of what this Law Enforcement Agency, the Simpsonville Police Department (SPD), should be. I will go work for an agency that cares & supports what is needed to be second to none. So now, how many officers will we lose to other agencies?�

In addition, Councilwoman Elizabeth Braswell gave the following quote: “Last year, I had reservations about the cost of National Accreditation. However, the majority of council felt it had merit. This happens during the budget process. Not everyone agrees on each expenditure. We come to terms. Develop a document. There is a public hearing. The budget is voted on by full council and becomes an ordinance.

Due to the recent challenge to our budget ordinance, I researched and found value in National Accreditation. But make no mistake, my belief that the checks should be signed and sent to CALEA has nothing to do with my new support of National Accreditation. It has to do with the fact that there is no justification to refuse to sign a check that is in budget and presented correctly. A council can amend a budget ordinance, but that hasn’t happened. The bigger question for our new council is: Do we intend to comply with our ordinances? Or just the ones we agree with?â€?

The SPD is still state accredited until May of 2016. Prior to the start of the planning phase of the current fiscal year a Greenville County server located at the Simpsonville Police Department crashed. The data on this server included all of the state accreditation proofs of compliance. None of the accreditation data could be recovered and there was no backup. At the time the city did not have an IT Specialist, but since then Chief Grounsell has ensured redundancy in his servers backing up data and the city has a full time IT Specialist that spends 95% of her time at the police department. At the time that this state accreditation information was lost, the city was a little over a year out from another state accreditation assessment. Not having any of the data after the server crashed, the police department would not be able to pass assessment and would have to reacquire all of this information again. This process could take up to two years, but they only had one year to complete it. This made it unreasonable to try to get state accreditated. Being a forward thinker, Chief Grounsell presented this idea to the previous city council during the budgetary process. The benefits and costs (long and short term) of International/National Accreditation were discussed in great detail over the course of 5 separate meetings. Once City Council agreed and passed the budget, the Simpsonville Police Department did not attempt to renew state accreditation and began to prepare to pursue International Accreditation. This was until the Mayor decided to take it upon herself to refuse to sign a check for an item that had been approved in the previous budgetary process.

The cost for international accreditation, beyond the $11,000 that had already been placed in the budget for the application fee does not call for any more money for at least two more years. By the third year the Police Department would go through a full on-site assessment. Once it is passed and the SPD receives their certification of completion this in essence becomes their anniversary date. From that day forward the city pays $4,000 annually on their anniversary day. This money pays for the Power DMS software, which is used to house all of the data (i.e. proof of compliance and corresponding standards), so that the data cannot be lost similar to what happened with the state accreditation data. Every year the CALEA assessors assess the files electronically through Power DMS. On the fourth year a team of no more than 5 assessors comes in to do a thorough assessment of the entire department. During the on-site assessments, which occur every four years, they dig deep into the culture and community for answers. The assessors don’t believe that a policy in place means that it is being done. They look beyond what is written on a piece of paper. They ride with the officers to ensure that every standard is being met and adhered to. They even go as far as to go door to door and/or hold community forums to hear feedback on the police services being provided. If everything is met then the SPD is accredited for another four years. In the event that they find issues, they will be given a time (i.e. 6 months) to prove certain standards in order to pass the assessment.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*