City take-home vehicle policy, Council chamber use on agenda

by Robin Kemp

The Forest Park City Council is set to swear in a permanent city manager at its May 18 meeting. The council voted to offer Alfred Barker the job during its May 4 meeting, calling him a “sole finalist,” but has yet to release any information about Barker, his qualifications for the job, or any other applicants for the position. The Clayton Crescent asked Mayor Angelyne Butler for that information immediately following the May 5 meeting but city officials had not responded to those requests as of press time.

Under Georgia law, a city does not have to disclose records identifying “applicants for city manager, city administrator, or other open ‘executive head’ positions.” However, the same law provides that “at least 14 calendar days prior to the hiring decision, all records relating to the top three candidates shall be subject to disclosure upon request” (O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(11)). 

In previous executive head searches, such as the police chief’s position, the city has claimed that no top three candidates existed, despite having advertised the positions to which internal candidates also have applied.

Controversy and personnel changes have rocked the police and fire departments over the past two years.

TIMELINE

July 2, 2018: The City Council votes to lessen penalties for possession of marijuana under one ounce. Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells said she and members of her family had been racially profiled by Forest Park police officers, once because “The officer said it was because I was in a ‘known drug area.’” Wells said a child had pulled on her car door handle to hand over money for a trip to a store.

July 18, 2018: Forest Park Police Chief L. Dwayne Hobbs tells the Clayton News his department did not engage in racial profiling. Hobbs added that he personally opposed the council’s vote on lower penalties for small-quantity marijuana possession but would enforce the law as passed.

Oct. 1, 2018: A Clayton News investigation found that over 80 percent of all FPPD arrests for possession of marijuana under one ounce since 2015 had involved African-American suspects. Police Chief Dwayne Hobbs fired; Capt. Jason Armstrong named interim police chief.

Dec. 20, 2018: Maj. Jamie Reynolds named interim police chief, replacing Armstrong. The city did not explain why Armstrong had been replaced.

May 15, 2019: Police Chief Nathaniel Clark officially sworn in.

May 28, 2019: Clark sworn in ceremonially in a public event at the Leonard Hartsfield Community Center.

June 25, 2019: Interim Chief Armstrong named police chief of Ferguson, MO.

Oct. 16, 2019: The city announced through a PR firm that Clark had fired FPPD Maj. Chris Matson and Hobbs’ assistant Susan Ridling for alleged financial improprieties following an investigation that included an independent audit that found “problems with inventory control of weapons and ammunition, accounting irregularities, and systemic failures in compliance with the department’s standard operating procedures.” Clark also announced that the disbanded VIPER Task Force, based on “unsubstantiated allegations” that Councilmembers Dabouze Antoine and Latresa Akins-Wells “were involved in voter fraud and illegal drug activities….physically followed, watched, monitored and photographed the two councilmembers.” This included mounting cameras on poles near the councilmembers’ homes, tracking their activities, going through their trash, and processing some contents “as potential evidence.” That investigation turned up no evidence to substantiate the allegations against Antoine and Akins-Wells, the city said.

Jan. 6, 2020: City Manager Angela Redding fired, Clark named interim city manager. Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells criticized Redding for not having fired Forest Park police officers who had surveilled her and Councilman Dabouze Antoine. Redding said she could not do so because the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was looking into the surveillance: “That’s not my fault. That’s a legal matter.”

Jan. 7, 2020: Councilmembers Antoine and Akins-Wells hold a press conference announcing they had filed an ante litem notice with the City of Forest Park over the police surveillance.

Jan. 21, 2020: During a discussion of a proposed city employee firearms ordinance, Forest Park Fire Chief Eddie Buckholts told Mayor Butler and City Council that “he had instituted a procedure to cut down on gun thefts from first responders’ personal vehicles” because firefighters’ and paramedics’ vehicles were getting broken into during emergency calls. Butler asked who had authorized the policy. Buckholts replied it was an in-house policy. Councilmembers tabled the proposed orginance.

Jan. 30, 2020: A Clayton News investigation found firearms thefts had plagued Forest Park fire stations between May 2015 and December 2017. Seven of nine incidents were reported before Buckholts’ gun-locker policy for on-duty personnel went into effect, with none reported after December 2017.

Feb. 4, 2020: The City Council votes 4-1 to ban city employees, other than police officers, carrying weapons on city property or in city vehicles. Akins-Wells said “the rules apply to the Fire Department just as well.”

May 4, 2020: The City Council names Alfred Barker as “sole finalist” for city manager and Don Horton as “sole finalist” for fire chief.

Also on Monday’s agenda: a discussion of the use of City Council chambers, an update on COVID-19 matters, disposition of assorted materials from the Forest Park Fire Department, and a resolution to amend city policy on take-home vehicles.

The regular meeting will take place at 6 p.m. on Zoom.

Public comments mist be submitted before noon on Monday via www.slido.com using event code 90203.

To join the Zoom meeting online, go to

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88415909862?pwd=Y08xNUZsSGtDWXNSaWtZYUgrcDdqdz09

and enter the password: Covid2020

If you prefer, you can join by phone by dialing (301) 715-8592

The meeting ID is 884 1590 9862 and the password is 470361.

See the full agenda online at https://www.forestparkga.org/documents/05.18.2020%20Mayor%20and%20Council%20Posted%20Agenda.pdf

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