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Avondale Estates City Commission considers hiring a consultant for police review

Avondale Estates Crime and public safety Decatur

Avondale Estates City Commission considers hiring a consultant for police review

Krystal Kvinge holds a sign during a peaceful protest in Avondale Estates for Black Lives Matter and 21st Century Police Reform sponsored by Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice on August 8, 2020. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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By Zoe Seiler, contributor

Avondale Estates, GA– The Avondale Estates City Commission at its Aug. 19 work session continued the conversation about reviewing the policies and procedures of the city’s police department. The board focused the discussion on hiring a third-party consultant to conduct a review.

City Manager Patrick Bryant said the city received two proposals and the board plans to move forward with interviewing both candidates. He recommended that the City Commission ask each candidate about how to review a police department in order to figure out how to best do so.

“We need to remove our own biases and get the perspective of persons who aren’t familiar with our organization to provide us with that answer and framework,” Bryant said.

Deputy City Manager Paul Hanebuth suggested that the first step in the process should be extensive data gathering that should include interviews with stakeholders, residents, the commissioners and people who have interacted with the police department.

The city is also on track to receive state accreditation through the Georgia Association of Police Chiefs and that process includes a review.

“I think it would be important to use data gathering and any other resources we can get from the consultant to dovetail with that process to achieve some synergy and be more efficient,” Hanebuth said. “Just the fact of getting that state-level of accreditation would put our department in the top 20% of all the police departments in Georgia. So just that step by itself ensures that we’re above average.”

As the discussion continued, the commissioners discussed the importance of figuring out what they want out of review and what they want it to look like. Mayor Jonathan Elmore said this type of review is something the city should do periodically and it is in line with hiring consultants to study other aspects of the city.

“We can get pretty deep in the weeds and not see where we’re going sometimes so it’s good that we bring in a consultant to do that,” Elmore said. “We want to bring someone to evaluate us to make sure that we’re operating at the highest level we can operate.”

Commissioner Lionel Laratte, the city’s first and only Black commissioner, said he wants to do something that will benefit the city and his goal is reform.

“I believe that we should be careful that we’re not doing this as an exercise to check off boxes and say that we’re in alignment with other police departments,” Laratte said. “It’s never been a goal of mine to be status quo. It’s always been a goal of mine to be above average. That’s what I hope for the city as well. I would like us to take a serious look at how we can make a difference.”

The City Commission also discussed an intergovernmental agreement with the city’s Downtown Development Authority to allow for shared staffing resources. Assistant City Manager Shannon Powell would become a shared employee with the DDA and the city plans to hire a contract employee to help with event planning and construction projects.

Laratte said the board and city staff should put the same amount of thought and effort into reviewing the police department as they did with negotiating the agreement with the DDA.

“What I am saying is that as we look at what we just discussed with the DDA– we put a lot of effort into finding an organizational structure that benefits the city and that allows us to move forward, I would expect the same type of thought and the same type of effort to go into getting a police department that is innovative, that does carry out its duties, that helps the city be an inclusive city, that helps the city be as safe as the city can possibly be,” he said.

In other business, the City Commission also discussed the potential of receiving money from DeKalb County through the CARES Act, the federal coronavirus relief package.

City attorneys in the county, including Avondale Estates City Attorney Stephen Quinn, have reviewed the county’s proposal and sent back suggested edits. Avondale could receive about $354,000 from the county that would have to be spent by the end of the year.

Bryant and Elmore explained that this money can only be spent on specific things like personal protective equipment for employees and others conducting business at city facilities, any staff time that is related to COVID-19 activities or the renovation and rehabilitation of city facilities.

If the city ran a COVID-19 testing site and city staff administered the testing site, that would be considered staff time related to COVID-19 activities and could be covered under the CARES Act.

Bryant added an area of contention is if the money could be used as direct assistance through a business loan program. The city of Decatur may use the money to reimburse themselves for their business loan program, Bryant said. However, Bryant and Quinn don’t feel like that expense would be eligible because they believe the state doesn’t give cities the ability to provide loans to businesses.

One eligible expense would be renovating and rehabilitating city facilities to make them more safe and sanitary from the spread of disease, Bryant added.

He suggested that the City Commission could use this money to renovate the public works building to keep the department there for a longer period of time and allow staff more time to find a new location for public works. He explained that city staff has struggled to find a new location that would meet the needs of the public works department.

The city had the same contractor who did the renovations at City Hall spec out a renovation for the public works building that would satisfy the requirements of the CARES Act and make the building more safe and sanitary for disease control.

“It provides for better storage opportunities, a better bathroom facility, a shower facility, a new locker facility and some upgrades to the existing infrastructure of the building so as to make it more sanitary and safe,” Bryant said.

 

He added that this is a suggestion the board can consider if they receive the money but any action would be contingent on that, what the board wants to spend the money on and if they want to renovate the building at all.

The commissioners all agreed that work does need to be done to the public works building but also thinks the department should be moved out of downtown. A proposal for this project has not been made yet. Bryant said he will make a recommendation to the board once the county makes a decision on the agreement.

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners has not made any official decision on giving money to the cities and has not considered the edits from the city attorneys yet, Quinn said.

Quinn said one big concern he has about the agreement is that the county tax commissioner seizing property tax revenues without clear criteria.

“The only requirement for that would be the county telling the tax commissioner with no due process, no court, no nothing that in the circumstance that they felt we hadn’t spent the funds right they would seize our tax revenues which obviously we need those to operate,” Quinn said. “This is a substantial amount of money. On top of that we have commitments to bonds and various things that our general fund is pledged to.”

The City Commission will meet again at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 24, via Zoom.

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