Collegedale commissioners discuss alleged police quota system, eye reducing property tax increase

Collegedale commissioners discuss alleged police quota system, eye reducing property tax increase

July 15th, 2019 by Sabrina Bodon in Local Regional News

Collegedale Commissioner Ethan White / Photo contributed by Ethan White

Collegedale Commissioner Ethan White / Photo contributed by...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

In an executive session Monday night, the Collegedale Board of Commissioners met with its attorney to discuss accusations against the city of an alleged use of a quota system in the police department.

"I'm speechless," Collegedale City Commissioner Ethan White said during the public meeting held immediately after. "I know there is pending litigation and a wrongful termination suit ... but too long here in Collegedale we've swept things under the rug."

On July 11, White issued a statement calling for a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into the accusation.

Robert Bedell, a former Collegedale police officer, filed a civil lawsuit for $500,000 in damages against the city of Collegedale, its police chief and city manager after the officer allegedly was forced to resign, the lawsuit states.

Beginning in January 2019, officers began getting written up for not meeting monthly quotas from December 2018, according to the lawsuit.

On Jan. 6, Bedell approached his supervisors with concerns that the quotas to complete at least 25 enforcement actions and 100 patrol activities were against Tennessee law, which states agencies can establish performance standards, but they cannot require or suggest expectations to issue a predetermined number of traffic citations within a specified period.

Collegedale Police Chief Brian Hickman

Collegedale Police Chief Brian Hickman

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

Four days later, police Chief Brian Hickman told Bedell he could resign and retain his Peace Officer Standards Training certification that allows him to work in law enforcement anywhere in Tennessee or be fired and have it revoked, the lawsuit states.

"I am appalled that no other comments are made regarded this," said White, who was the last to speak during reports after Vice Mayor Tim Johnson and Commissioner Debbie Baker.

White made a point to clarify that he is not commenting on the termination, but on the accusation of a quota. Mayor Katie Lamb said she'd rather the issue play out in court than in public.

During the meeting, City Attorney Sam Elliot reminded citizens the court action is a civil lawsuit that the city is now investigating.

"This not an indictment," Elliot said. "It's a set of allegations that the city has the right to issue a defense to."

In other business, the board discussed the option of reducing the 39-cent property tax increase it unanimously passed at its last meeting on June 17.

The 5-0 vote last month approved a 31% property tax increase to bring in $1.3 million in new revenue for a $11,630,994 operating budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year. This was the first tax increase the city has seen since 2008.

At the meeting, Johnson proposed reducing the tax from 39 to 28 cents and establishing a rainy-day fund to make up for the $36,316 of lost revenue.

"I can afford the extra $24 out of my pocket, but I know some people can't," he said.

When the budget was first proposed, Lamb said, City Manager Ted Rogers suggested a 29-cent tax increase. It was the commissioners who recommended 39 cents, she said.

The only way to reverse the 39-cent ordinance, said Elliot, would be with another ordinance nullifying and amending the first one. If it gets past its first reading, a second reading would not be until the third week of August.

For the past month, Johnson said, he's received more than 30 calls about the increased tax. Normally, he only receives two calls a month, usually about potholes or damaged sidewalks, he said.

"We had a room full of people and I feel like as a city commissioner we didn't listen to them," Johnson said.

The currently passed property tax rate assesses $1.65 per $100 of value, amounting to $147 annually or $12.25 a month on a $150,000 home.

Commissioner Ethan White also raised concerns with how quickly the budget and tax were passed. The board received the budget the last week of May, and while there were discussions and public readings, he said it felt rushed.

The board will meet again at its monthly public commission workshop on July 22 at 4:30 p.m., with the property tax on the agenda. City manager Rogers and Commissioner Phil Garver were both absent from the meeting due to scheduled vacation time, and are both expected to attend this meeting.

Contact Sabrina Boden at sboden@timesfreepress.com.