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July 20 – UPDATED: City Council posts Special Council Meeting for Friday on Police Merger; Reports that Majority of Council will vote to end merger

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

July 20, 2017 – UPDATED 1:26 p.m. - The Savannah City Council will hold a Special City Council Meeting tomorrow, Friday, July 21, 2017, at 10:00 a.m. in the Council Chambers of Savannah City Hall, to address the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department Intergovernmental Agreement, according to a public notice filed today.

It’s the intention of Mayor Eddie Deloach pictured at right,top) to move to end the police merger with the County, according to those close to the matter.  The Mayor approaches the status of the merger, as of today, from a different perspective:  he states that he holds out hope that Chatham County officials will come up with a long-term plan to resolve the issue of how to split policing costs.  

But, in an interview today, Alderman Tony Thomas went on the record as saying,“The merger will end tomorrow, I believe, if the County doesn’t step up with a check.“

“The votes are there if the County does not come forth with a plan to honor the findings of the Berkshire study,” Thomas added.  “Those findings include the rational for the policing pricing,” the split of financial responsibility between the City of Savannah and Chatham County.

“They sanctioned it being studied.  This was an independent study.  I guess they didn’t like the outcome. What do we do, keep studying it until they get the outcome they want?” he posed.

Thomas added that he wants the Friday session held in the public, to not convene into an executive session.

“I wouldn’t want to see this done in executive session.  We need to let the voters and the public of the City and the County know where public safety lies.”

Sources state that the Mayor called and polled all the Aldermen about their perspective.

Deloach confirmed today that he thinks the numbers in the Berkshire study are solid. “The County said it was good numbers.  I’m agreeing with the staff – the County and City staff – that met for like 25 hours and determined what the ratio would be,” he explained. “These are not my numbers; I’m agreeing with the staff report.”  But, the majority of the County Commissioners have rejected the findings of the study since a June workshop when the study was reviewed by that body, with additional comments rejecting the study’s findings voiced at last Friday’s County Commission meeting.

“This report raises as many questions as it does answers,” County Chairman Al Scott told the Savannah Morning News. “I just want to be on the record about that,” he told the paper’s reporter.

“I’m holding out that the County will come through,” Deloach said. “We want to dance, but you have to have two to tango.” 

As to whether there are five votes to end the merger, the Mayor concluded, “There is no doubt in my mind that if the County does not pay their fair share, there will be no consolidated police department,” confirmed DeLoach, who will put the issue before the Council at Friday’s session. 

Alderman John Hall, in an interview this morning, added his agreement to end the merger if the County does not agree to to the findings of the Berkshire study. "We have no other option.  We have run out," he said. 

County Commissioner Dean Kicklighter, who has worked for years to end the merger - sometimes as the lone voice opposing the deal on the County Commission, could not be reached for comment today.  The merger, a deal he initially voted for but later came to regret, has resulted in the residents of Unincorporated Chatham  overpaying and being under-served with police protection, he has said many times.  

But, he does not want it to end. He just wants the money spent by the Unincorporated residents in the county to be fair. In a statement to the SJB this afternoon, he writes. "Should the Mayor and council of Savannah actually vote to end the police merger, I believe that would be the dumbest vote in the history of Savannah politics. That vote would blow up their crime rate immediately because they lose the 95,000 unincorporated area residents who live in the low crime rate areas from their stats, so Savannah's crime rate would then accurately reflect their truly horrendous crime problem thus far devasting their tourism industry which we all know is the driving force behind Savannah's economic success. 

"However, I, as a county commissioner, only represent the unincorporated area residents when speaking of the police agreement. If they're not willing to properly structure the agreement in order to properly police and protect unincorporated area residents for a fair price ... because the county can provide the unincorporated area residents much better police services than they currently receive, and we can do so for millions less than the greedy Savannah Mayor and Council are demanding," Kicklighter added.   

Attempts to reach Chairman Scott, on whether there is any last minute compromise in the works, were unsuccessful.  

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