County Commission, Police Merger Situation still Unclear

SAVANNAH, GA (WSAV-TV) It was a subject that consumed the Chatham County Commission chamber for a majority of 2015. In its first meeting of 2016, only one commissioner brought up the uncertain merger agreement between city and county leaders.

Those comments, though, were of optimism a compromise can be reached. They came from one of the commissioners that voted to end negotiations in October with the city council.

“It’s better if we get this matter in a more calm situation and put it rest one way or the other and that’s what I have reached out to do and I have very good hopes that something may work out, though it may not be perfect it’ll be a compromise everyone can work with,” says 3rd District commissioner Tony Center who’s district covers most of downtown Savannah.

The merger talks ended in 2015 with the chairman’s veto of the commission’s 5-4 vote to end negotiations. An emergency meeting from the city council was the last act the former Jackson administration took on the framework agreement, not a long term agreement, but a two year study and temporary prolonging of a consolidated department giving the two chambers more time to negotiate. In that meeting, they voted 7-1 to accept the commission’s September framework draft, but that was deemed null by county officials.

“I’ve taken that the emergency meeting was illegal because I cannot find or produce an agenda,” says commission chair Al Scott.

As it stands, no more negotiations have taken place between the county or city managers. However, Center says commissioners are reaching out to new city council members as well as Mayor DeLoach.

“We’ve had very good meetings. We think, or we’re very confident that both sides will get one document that everybody can say ‘this is the document,’ if we go that road,” says Center as he references the overall feeling of the commission that, ” some commissioners say we don’t have a contract other commissioners say we do have a contract.”

That is the situation according to County Manager Lee Smith. He tells News 3 there have been no requests he begin communications with the DeLoach administration or city manager Stephanie Cutter. Since the veto in November, commissioner’s Dean Kicklighter and Center took the stance they will allow the original agreement to end on it’s March 31st deadline. After that, residents in unincorporated Chatham County will no longer be serviced by Savannah Metro Police.

Smith adds he is working now to make sure the county has a standing police department come April, or at least more sheriff’s deputies to support in the meantime. There’s still a great deal of uncertainty as the chairman refers to the merger as a non issue, claiming a framework contract has been signed.

“We can put it back in front of both parties as far as I’m concerned we have a signed contract,” says Scott.

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