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Clarkston mayor holding press conference to announce police pay raises

Clarkston Crime and public safety Trending

Clarkston mayor holding press conference to announce police pay raises

Clarkston Mayor Beverly Burks stands next to a bus shelter displaying one of the new ads encouraging people to get their COVID-19 booster. Photo by Julie Roseman for GSU

Clarkston, GA — Clarkston Mayor Beverly Burks is hosting a press conference on Monday morning, June 12, to announce pay raises for city police officers.

Burks confirmed the pay raises in an interview with Decaturish on Friday, June 9.

The raises are intended to avert a severe shortage of officers. Police Chief Christine Hudson previously said the city could be down to nine officers by mid-July out of an authorized force of 21.

The police shortage comes amid tensions between the police chief and City Manager Shawana Qawiy, who suspended Hudson for five days in April. Hudson, who is white, responded by filing a grievance accusing Qawiy, who is Black, of having ‘animus’ toward white people.

Hudson, who is eligible to retire, said the department asked for raises back in November but, “We were told that there was no money for raises back in November.”

The shortage has attracted the notice of local TV stations, bringing additional scrutiny to the city of Clarkston and its leaders.

In an unusual move, several Clarkston police officers spoke about the state of the department during the public comment period at the June 6 city council meeting. At that same meeting, council members blocked a discussion to discuss a proposed pay increase for officers, attempting to convince officers with one foot out the door to reconsider their decision to leave the city for other opportunities.

During the June 6 meeting, Sgt. Dustin Bulcher said, “Without a pay adjustment, we are not going to get any qualified officers.” Bulcher emphasized that the current staffing problems were not the fault of Chief Christine Hudson but of low pay and lack of support.

Sgt. William Hilton said that the result of low pay is attrition, which creates an unsafe environment because there will only be one or two officers on shift at a time.

At the beginning of the June 6 meeting, Councilmember Jamie Carroll had moved to add an item to the meeting agenda to discuss compensation for police officers. The addition was voted down by Vice Mayor Debra Johnson, Councilmember Awet Eyasu, and Councilmember Susan Hood.

Following the meeting, Hood told Decaturish she supports raises but felt she didn’t have enough information about how it would affect the budget to make a decision at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Unfortunately, the appearance is that I and the other members were dismissing the issue,” Hood said. “In hindsight, it may have been better to add it to the agenda and explain that at this time there was not enough information. Again, speaking for myself, I support increasing police salaries and will vote to support this as soon as the information is provided.”

Carroll wanted to increase police pay by 8%, pay double for overtime, and offer retention bonuses.

Since that meeting, the city manager, mayor and police chief have been working on a resolution to the problem.

But some citizens are accusing the council of ignoring critical issues facing the city.

“This crisis needs to be addressed not by rushed press releases and Next Door posts, but by the people we elected to represent us doing the work in city council,” one resident wrote in a recent letter to the editor of Decaturish. “It was only a few years ago when Clarkston was getting national attention as a welcoming and progressive city. We have now regressed to the point where we may not be a city at all.”

Sara Amis contributed reporting to this story.

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