This story was updated at 5:36 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, with more information.
While the Ringgold (Georgia) City Council decides whether to open an official investigation into allegations by the city's former police chief before and since he has resigned, some city employees showed their support for the city manager who has found himself in hot water.
Dan Bilbrey, the former police chief who publicly resigned two weeks ago, gave a passionate speech about how his department is underfunded, overlooked and how morale among his employees was consistently low.
Bilbrey also told the Times Free Press that Dan Wright, Ringgold's city manager, put a tracking device on his car without his knowledge. Wright declined to comment on the allegation.
Mayor Nick Millwood took Bilbrey's resignation as an indictment not on one employee within the city but on the entire city council.
He also said he took it personally when Bilbrey resigned in such a public way.
Millwood said the only reasonable option for the council is to look into Bilbrey's accusations and into how the police department has or has not been neglected over the years.
City council members Kelly Bomar and Rhonda Swaney agreed.
"I personally will not tolerate a witch hunt for any of our employees, but the allegations made against the city and its elected officials and administration last meeting by former police chief Dan Bilbrey must be investigated," Bomar said. "Many statements were made that indicted us in this room, on this council and former members of this body."
"I think any time a head of a department publicly comes forward in a meeting and lays things out that are not what I would consider best practice, I think it behooves us to look into it," Swaney said. "I don't like that it's becoming polarizing. That shouldn't be happening. Ultimately, I feel like we need to be looking into whatever is causing division in what's going on in this building."
Members of the public — most of them city employees — took nearly two hours at Monday's meeting commending Wright for the job he does, how loyal he is as a leader and how much they support him in his role.
Nicki Lundeen, Ringgold's city clerk and Wright's executive administrative assistant, said she has never worked for a kinder man than Wright.
"His [job] is not a five-day-a-week, eight-hour-day job," she said. "It is seven days a week, 24 hours, and never, ever ends. He's on call every single day."
Former city councilman Terry Crawford also spoke in support of Wright. Crawford said Wright probably has the most support of anyone in Catoosa County and that the city probably would see a "mass evacuation of city employees" if he was let go.
Other employees spoke and were met with applause every time they showed gratitude to Wright.
Local attorney McCracken Poston urged the council to look into the allegations seriously and to also look into why the city's charter structure was changed in 2017.
To fire the city manager, the Ringgold charter used to require affirmative votes from three of the city's five council members. But now — after a change by state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga — all five council members have to approve of the firing.
Mullis said at the time he was making the change for stability reasons. Councilwoman Sara Clark agreed with that, saying that the charter change was not an issue.
"This is a tempest in a teapot," Clark said. "Why do we care?"
Clark also said that, because of home rule, the council can decide to override the rules passed by Mullis and the Legislature anytime it wants.
"Under those circumstances, I think that it's time that we let this issue lie," Clark said about the charter issue, adding that it was a "bit overblown."
Millwood and other council members emphasized that the council was not deciding whether to let Wright go. They were deciding whether to open an investigation into allegations made against Wright and the city as a whole that could cost taxpayers money.
The council agreed to discuss the possibility of an investigation in executive session Monday.
Contact Patrick Filbin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.