The purpose of the meeting, Walker-Harps said was “to disseminate as much information as we can, to meet and greet elected officials and department heads. We want to know what you think and what they think.”
Some of the issues raised Saturday included the pending $25 fee for the new Senior Center, discrimination in law enforcement, hiring and promotion inequities and new tax laws.
The participants who participated Saturday included Spalding County Sheriff Wendell Beam, Griffin Police Chief Frank Strickland, Griffin City Manager Kenny Smith, Spalding County Manager William Wilson, Spalding County Parks and Recreation Director Louis Greene, Spalding County Tax Commissioner Sylvia Hollums and Griffin Fire Rescue Chief Tommy Jones.
Griffin Housing Authority CEO Bob Dull was scheduled as well but was ill, Walker-Harps said. She hopes to have him at future meeting along with Spalding County Fire Chief Kenny West and Griffin-Spalding County School Superintendent Curtis Jones. The the Educational Prosperity Initiative will also be part of one of next sessions.
According to the Spalding Collaborative, this initiative focuses on providing resources and opportunities to residents of Griffin-Spalding, including adult education, after-school tutoring, job training held at Fairmont Community Center and the planned community garden on the site of the former Fairmont High School. It is part of the partnership between Spalding County, Spalding Collaborative, Griffin Housing Authority, University of Georgia-Griffin campus, and Southern Crescent Technical College.
Many of the questions Saturday focused on complaints against the police and sheriff’s office and the racial disparity in the number of black employees in the departments and the city and county departments compared to the population.
Both Beam and Strickland said complaints are investigated, employees are disciplined when complaints or allegations are sustained and are required to complete personal interaction training as part of the disciplinary process.
Smith noted that each of the city’s marked patrol cars now have cameras which are activated any time there is contact with the public. He said the cameras are for safety of the officer and citizens and are reviewed when there is a complaint and periodically checked to make sure officers are doing as they are trained to do.
Walker-Harps brought up an incident where the camera was not turned on and officer allegedly spoke to two young women in a derogatory manner.
Lt. Darrell Dix, who conducted the investigation told Walker-Harps the officer has been disciplined for his actions as well as for not following directives to turn the camera on. He will also be meeting with the women and their mother because of his actions and shortcomings in this.
Strickland noted that “out of the 450 city employees, there are very, very few problems. I can count the problems on one hand.”
Strickland, Jones and Beam each provided a racial break down in their department, with Walker-Harps saying “the numbers are really unacceptable.”
Beam said the Sheriff’s Office has 189 employees, 115 male, 74 female, 104 white male, 10 white female, 56 black female and 18 black male. The Patrol Division including Communications, has 54 employees, 37 male, 17 female, 34 white males, three black males, three black females and 14 white females. Since he has been sheriff, two black males, three white males and two hispanic males were hired or transferred in.
“I’m assuming you want the most qualified person out there and probably don’t care about whether they are black or white, male or female, as long as they know how to do their job,” Beam said. “I’m looking for capable, qualified people willing to do the job.”
Capt. Donald Britt who is in charge of hiring provided the numbers for the police department which were compiled as part of the department's accreditation by Capt. Eddie Bogan, the department’s compliance and accreditation officer. Both men are black.
Britt said there are 77 employees, 18 black and one Hispanic. He said he's “been in the job for 12 month’s and hired three African Americans, one Hispanic and two Caucasians, or six total.”
Beam, Strickland and Jones explained their hiring practices which focus on hiring the person qualified for the job and the promotion procedures which include review boards made up of management from their respective departments, which each include both blacks and whites.
Strickland explained the city police department is accredited nationally and statewide, which includes personal interaction training and the department follows those state and national practices in hiring and promotion.
Jones noted the same thing occurs at Griffin Fire Rescue. He said many of the new firefighters come through training at Southern Crescent Technical College, where one of his captains is an instructor,
Unfortunately, Jones said, many of the potential black applicants go to departments to the north of here because of at least 10 percent more in pay.
Strickland, Jones and Beam asked those gathered to bring them qualified applicants. “We do a lot of recruiting at Spalding High and Southern Crescent,” Strickland said, explaining the qualifications are merit and education based, “We’ve hired every African American we’ve gotten.”