The Ringgold (Georgia) City Council has addressed several issues with its police department and its city charter that came to light after the former chief of police resigned publicly and claimed the city manager put a tracking device on his patrol car.
At Monday's meeting, the council voted unanimously to change a section of the city's charter that requires a unanimous vote to remove a city manager. It also agreed to consider raising the salary for part-time officers, improving the department's health insurance package and adding to the department's fleet of vehicles.
Former police Chief Dan Bilbrey gave a passionate speech in January about how his department is underfunded, overlooked and how morale with his employees was consistently low.
A week later, Bilbrey told the Times Free Press that Ringgold's city manager, Dan Wright, put a tracking device on his car without his knowledge. Wright declined to comment on the allegation.
The internal investigation looked at budgetary concerns, tracker placement procedures, equipment and vehicles, compensation and benefits and usable space in the police department.
The investigation was not meant to address the city's charter, which requires a super majority of the city council to vote to remove a city manager, but now the council is planning to change it.
In 2016, Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, helped pass a piece of legislation that made it more difficult for an elected body to fire a city manager.
At the time, elected officials in Ringgold asked their local state representatives to pass an act in Atlanta in 2016, tweaking a couple of things in the city charter. In October of 2016 when now-Mayor Nick Millwood was looking through the city's rules, he stumbled on a change that was new to him.
To fire the city manager, the Ringgold charter used to require affirmative votes from three of the city's five council members. But now, all five council members have to approve of the firing.
The current city council agreed to request that number be changed to four members.
Millwood said the agreement is a compromise between those who wanted to go back to three and those who wanted it to stay at five. A proposal will be sent to the city attorney for review.
Some in the community called for an outside agency to conduct an investigation. Millwood said he personally contacted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the county's district attorney about that but was told there wasn't anything that rose to the level of involving the GBI.
After meeting behind closed doors over the last several months in executive session, the council will not take any action in response to Bilbrey's allegations that Wright had placed a tracking device on his car.
The council was advised by its attorney that city employees have no expectation of privacy while using city vehicles and the city "reserves the right to use tracking devices to ensure accountability and employee safety."
The council did recommend clearly defining that policy in the employee handbook.
The city's review of its police department's budget showed an 111% increase since 2009, or an average increase of more than $48,000 a year. Bilbrey had a laundry list of requests before leaving and the city estimated his requests would cost the city another $504,000. Those included improving department facilities and updating vehicles, among other things.
The city council is not recommending it increase the police department's operating budget. The council did agree to increase the pay for a part-time officer to $19 an hour to be more competitive and will increase the city's contribution to employee family health insurance coverage from 50% to 70%. The increase will save all employees who have family coverage between $198 and $257 a month, according to the city.
The council will also consider purchasing two vehicles with 2019 SPLOST funds and will install HVAC equipment, a dropped ceiling and floor covering to unfinished space in the department's working space in City Hall. Bilbrey had complained officers didn't have proper working space in evidence rooms and offices.
The city will begin interviewing for Bilbrey's replacement this week.
Contact Patrick Filbin at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.