County condemn GCPD abolishment referendum

By TAYLOR COOPER

Glynn County commissioners passed a resolution Thursday condemning a referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot asking voters if they want to abolish the police department and the state bills allowing the referendum to happen.

Echoing the language in a lawsuit filed last week to stop the referendum, Commission Chairman Mike Browning, reading from a prepared statement, said the bills “impermissibly seek to defund and abolish the Glynn County Police Department and force the transfer of county property and assets through an unlawful referendum and election process in violation of the Georgia Constitution and state election law.”

Commissioner David O’Quinn questioned the need for the resolution, saying the lawsuit was a strong enough message.

“What we’ve done in a previous decision was say it’s OK for the attorneys to file a lawsuit. That was a legal action,” Browning responded. “This is speaking as the board, not a legal action, stating our position.”

Not all supported the sentiment. The commission voted 5-2 to formalize the resolution. Browning, along with commissioners Bill Brunson, Allen Booker, Peter Murphy and Bob Coleman, voted in favor. Commissioners O’Quinn and Wayne Neal voted against it.

In the resolution, the commission stated its intent to continue operating the police department and its opposition to two state bills that made the referendum possible and the referendum itself.

The county is the only governing body with the legal authority to abolish the GCPD, the resolution reads, and the referendum is an attempt by the state legislature to “usurp” that authority.

The resolution came in response to two pieces of legislation the Georgia General Assembly passed this year, Senate Bill 38 and 509. S.B. 38 gave the state the power to abolish county police forces and S.B. 509 included the referendum itself and a stipulation to place it on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

State legislators say the action was necessary because the county commission has failed to show a commitment to addressing apparent corruption and malfeasance in the police department as evidenced by the department’s handling of the Feb. 23 shooting of Ahmaud Arbery and a scandal that led to the dissolution of the Glynn Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team.

The county government filed a lawsuit this week to stop the referendum. A hearing on a request for a temporary injunction that would keep it off the ballot is set for Sept. 11.

Commissioners voted to give interim Police Chief Jay Wiggins the position permanently with a pay raise to match.

“Interim Chief Wiggins will be formally sworn in as police chief for Glynn County in the upcoming days, pending approval of the authorization requested herein,” the agenda item reads.

The action was on the commission’s consent agenda, a block of agenda items approved as one. Commissioners did not discuss the subject before approving it.

While the specific salary was not given, the pay grade for county police chief is $83,811 to $134,101.

In other business, the commission held a public hearing on a proposed development impact fee.

Bill Ross, president of Ross and Associates, said the fee is still in development and that commissioners are not committed to taking any action should they decide not to adopt it.

Jeff Kilgore, a Brunswick resident, said developers make a profit off public infrastructure and that the fee should be as high as possible so taxpayers are footing as little of the bill as possible for infrastructure improvement and expansion.

Developer Bruce Garrett said construction companies are major employers that are deeply tied to the local economy. An impact fee would unfairly hurt lower cost residences and have little impact on high-dollar homes, he said.

“It stops people from making that first home purchase,” Garrett said. “It does not stop people from buying that million-dollar home, that $600,000 home or that $300,000.”

Alex Muir, with One Hundred Miles, noted developers could request reductions or exemptions from the fee and said commissioners could use it to guide development in positive directions.

She said the fee could be used to incentivize developers to be more environmentally conscious, adopt green technologies and environmentally-friendly development practices and construct low-income housing, among other things.

St. Simons Island resident Julian Smith said more information should have been provided to the public about the fee to encourage more residents to attend.

He also said the commission should move quickly to implement a St. Simons Island-specific impact fee.

“I think it’s much more important to have an impact fee for the island and necessary to have the impact fee only for the island to encourage more development on the mainland,” Smith said.

The commission ended the meeting in executive session, which is closed to the media and the public.

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