When grandma warned, “Don’t cut your nose off to spite your face,” she was forecasting the seemingly ridiculous decision by Ridgetop, TN, to fire its entire police department after the chief and officers refused to enforce a city council-mandated ticket quota. Department doors were physically chained and locked. Seriously.
In this hasty, Swampy – and perhaps childishly petty — move by the Ridgeway mayor and four-member council, the reallocation of the police department’s $429,000 annual budget was up for grabs. And in another brash and sassy interchange, the idea was floated that the crime-stopping responsibility could fall squarely on the local county sheriff’s shoulders. Seems like a complete and disastrous win-lose-lose in the making.
Double the trouble, the Ridgetop council’s gambit is against Tennessee law, specifically Code Title 39, Chapter 16, which makes citation quotas illegal. Does anyone smell a rat in full-blown cover-your-behind mode?
Mayor Tony Reasoner had his story down pat:
“It was all budget. We can’t afford it. Hopefully, and I’m going to float this idea with the board, but I think we need a 4-5 member board of citizens to come up with ideas on our future. Do we need a full-time or a part-time police department, or do we let the sheriff … cover it?”
Yeah, a citizen crime task force is akin to giving omnipotent power to the junior high school hall monitor. Coupled with the genius idea of sending the entire police department to the unemployment line and tagging the sheriff with the ultimate responsibility with no financial assistance, well, that argument backfired spectacularly.
Robertson County officials went a whiter shade of pale at the thought and immediately demanded more than $339,000 in extra funding from commissioners to pay for three new deputies to serve a larger patrol area. County Mayor Billy Vogle stood firm and declared, “We cannot be a presence when we’re shorthanded in the sheriff’s office anyway.”
Loose Lips and all That
This tit-for-tat battle started when the previous police chief asked the council for an additional officer – to protect and serve the 2,000 happy souls in Ridgetop. The mayor and council laid down the gauntlet: Write more tickets to pay for your new employee.
Unfortunately for the mayor and council, Police Chief Bryan Morris wouldn’t kowtow to extortion and had an officer record a damning conversation with Vice Mayor McCaw Johnson in which the council’s No. 2 explained the situation:
“I will make a proposal right now. I will give the two bottom guys a raise for the 12-month period and hire back the seventh officer if you write an average of 210 tickets a month. I will do that, but I better see 210 tickets a month.”
So not smart. And so against the law. At least the police department understood and told the council to shove it, but not till after releasing the tape.
After Morris and officers Shawn Taylor and Don Azbill filed a civil lawsuit against the city council a few days ago, Judge Bill Goodman issued a restraining order – a stern warning to prevent the city from destroying police files, disposing of department assets, or messing around with police department business.
The restraining order partially states, “the city may not restrict RPD officers from access to the department’s offices, computers, files, badges, weapons or any other items there.” Nor can the city destroy or dispose of any department files or sell any assets while the order is in place.
It was a smarting face slap for those attempting to sweep their spitefulness under the rug.
After much brouhaha and outcry from citizens and the order by Goodman, a no-commenting and seemingly sour Mayor Reasoner was forced to personally unlock and unpadlock the doors to the Ridgetop Police Station. It’s again business as usual in the community, and no one is out citing folks for random and ridiculous offenses.
Said Taylor, who conducted the secret recording of officials demanding a quota, “Law enforcement is not about tickets. It’s about trying to cut down on crime. That is a local government taking advantage of its people. That’s not what we are here for.”
This man should run for office.
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