No current DPS employees would be fired “unless they make me too mad”
THE ORDINANCE PASSES ON 5-2 VOTE: FINAL READING: 8:30 AM THIS WEDNESDAY: Clinton Council backs plan to eliminate Department of Public Safety, formed 2005
Clinton City Council voted unanimously — without comment — last Thursday to dissolve the Clinton Department of Public Safety. If the ordinance passes second and final reading, Clinton will return to having a Fire Department and a separate Police Department - each managed by a separate chief.
Council held a special called meeting Thursday, three days following Monday’s regular August meeting. Other than city staff and reporters, the meeting was attended by nine people.
During a brief presentation, City Manager Bill Ed Cannon said the concept of a combined Department of Public Safety is not working in Clinton. “It’s our duty to ensure the safety and welfare of our citizens,” Cannon told council. “Stand alone (police and fire departments) offers us the best chance.”
After the meeting, while being questioned by reporters from The Chronicle, The Laurens County Advertiser and WLBG, Cannon exploded into a profanity-laced tirade before storming out of the council chambers.
His outburst was witnessed by Mayor Bob McLean and all six other council members, who were still in their seats.
Council voted in 2005 to combine police and fire into a Department of Public Safety. Prior to those two votes in 2005, the council discussed the proposal at length during several public meetings.
This time, no one spoke other than to make a motion and then to second the motion.
Cannon admitted to reporters he has met with up to three council members at a time — in private — to discuss the plan to dissolve DPS. A meeting with four council members would constitute a quorum and would trigger provisions of the SC Freedom of Information Act that require meetings of a quorum of a public body to be open to the public.
After Thursday’s meeting had adjourned, former DPS Officer Scottie Peay asked to address council and they agreed to listen to his comments.
Peay urged council members to do their homework before making such an important decision.
“Don’t make a fly-by-night decision that will affect a lot of people,” Peay said. “They (current DPS employees) will leave. I promise you.”
Cannon said public safety is not changing. “We will just have somebody who runs their department as it should be done,” he said. “Nobody’s going to lose their job.”
Later, when the city manager was talking to reporters, he said no current DPS employees would be fired “unless they make me too mad.”
Peay spoke to reporters in the parking lot of the M.S. Bailey Municipal Center. “When I was a police officer, we had cars on the road 24 hours a day (because so many cars were out of service),” he said. “Fire trucks were always breaking down. Now, we’ve got so much better stuff.”
Peay said he joined the department shortly after the switch from separate departments to DPS and worked in Clinton for 10 years. He said Robin Morse, director of public safety, “is a very smart man when it comes to emergency management. He took the department from a six to a 10.”
During his presentation to council, Cannon said “it is imperative that police and fire department personnel acquire the training necessary to ensure safe and proper emergency response to our citizens.”
“A police officer is a law enforcement officer and solves a crime,” Cannon said. “On the other hand, a firefighter is one who is mainly responsible for putting out fires or rescuing people.
“Apart from this, they face different dangers. A firefighter faces the danger of being burnt (sic) while a police officer might get shot at.”
Cannon admitted there are an equal number of studies which show public safety works as there are studies which show public safety does not work.
He said a guide developed by the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs concluded that consolidation doesn’t work.
Cannon said since Clinton established public safety in 2005, the budget has increased 12.75% while the number of personnel has decreased 20.75%.
After the meeting, The Chronicle asked Cannon why he would meet with small numbers of council members in private, rather than discuss the issue during a public meeting. He said the law allows him to do that.
When The Chronicle suggested he was trying to “get around” the law, Cannon exploded.
“That’s the most idiotic statement I’ve ever heard,” he said. “We’ll fall out if that (expletive) is in the paper. I’ve done this for 22 years. I don’t need to be told by a (expletive) newspaper writer how to run the city. You’ll get nothing else from me. I don’t give a (expletive).”
Later, in the parking lot, Cannon apologized to reporters and provided The Chronicle with additional information he used to form his decision.