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COLUMN: Hornswoggling Taints Guyton Police Chief Appointment

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The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of The Georgia Virtue.

Hornswoggled. Bamboozled. Hoodwinked. Call it what you will – there’s another storm of deception swirling around the Guyton Police Department.

The City of Guyton announced last week that the will be hosting a swearing in ceremony this week for the new police chief, James Breletic. The ceremony is set for Tuesday night at 7 PM, a week ahead of the regular monthly meeting. I bet you’re thinking, “Man, given all the drama with the last interim chief, this is great news!” But you need to pump the brakes.

A quick Google search shows that James Breletic previously worked as the Chief of Police in Lake Park (Lowndes County) before he was placed on paid administrative leave for allegedly using tax dollars without the approval of the city council. He was then terminated from his position for insubordination because, according to Lake Park officials, he refused to turn in his equipment, computer, and other items when he was placed on leave as chief.  Per the City of Guyton’s own personnel policy, that is grounds for disqualification from consideration for employment (see Section 2.4.1(B)).

A mayor from another community actually sent me the article before I saw the announcement from the City of Guyton and said ‘New Guyton Chief.’ I thought she was joking and just poking fun at the idea of Guyton hiring someone who had been fired somewhere else. But the joke is on me…and the people of Guyton. This is the new guy.

Let’s talk about the process, too. 

First, this police chief was selected by the Sheriff (who is presently the acting chief of Guyton), the Chief of Rincon PD, the Chief of Springfield PD, and the Interim City Administrator. Sheriff McDuffie is the only one of those named that was elected by the people of Guyton and while all of the selection committee will have to work with the chief, citizens elected a new mayor and council in November to collectively make these decisions. In fact, the state of turmoil of the Guyton Police Department was campaign issue for a number of the candidates.

It is also possible that, in the event that someone from the city had partaken in the selection process, the personnel policy disqualifier would have come into play. But it actually isn’t clear who really was involved in the selection process. On Friday, the interim city administrator said in an email that no elected officials participated in the search, but back and forth on social media between elected officials and citizens showed that elected officials were aware of the candidates and made calls themselves about possible choices.

Second, city officials have defended the choice, saying Breletic’s termination was a year ago and was not criminal in nature. For starters, lying over the radio to dispatch about citations issued to a drunk driver isn’t criminal either, but it doesn’t demonstrates leadership qualities either. Too, nearly everyone who has been fired in the last year in the City of Guyton was canned for…wait for it…insubordination. Ethics and chains of command matter, as does perception. I think the people of Guyton, and Effingham County generally, are deserving of an appointment free of controversy.

Third, city officials need to look long and hard at whether or not this is being done properly. Flashback to last fall when then-Mayor Jeff Lariscy nearly had a stroke from frustration as Council voted not once but three times in the same night to deny his (and the search committee’s) nomination for police chief. If he (Lariscy) had the authority to simply appoint someone and call it a day, don’t you think he would have?

The City Charter, per Article III, Section 3.10(e) requires that all persons appointed as the director of an agency or department under the supervision of the mayor and appointive offices (that’s the police chief!) be nominated by the mayor and then confirmed by a vote of the city council. The verbiage in the Charter is “shall” – as in “must,” and votes on personnel may not happen in executive session, by email, or in search committees. They are required to be counted in open meetings. But that has not happened and it is not scheduled to happen. The chief to be will be sworn in Tuesday and the city will call it a day, legislative prescriptions be damned. 

I thought it was supposed to be a ‘new day’ in Guyton…but a new day requires some sunlight. It can’t come in the dark.

And, likely, of most utmost importance…just because you can…doesn’t mean you should. Let’s just say that all of the council members, the mayor, and the interim city manager are on the same page about the appointment of Breletic. Why not just vote on it publicly, if not for any other reason than to show a consensus among a new administration – something the citizens have desired for so long. 

“The most qualified applicant” does not automatically equate to the best person for the job. If a municipality is unable to find a qualified police chief with a clean internet search, a glowing resume, and the ability to work within the confines of the compensation the city is able to offer, it is quite possible that the city does not need a police department. Dissolving the police department and turning the responsibilities over to the Sheriff’s Office would be the fiscally responsible and the efficient solution to that problem.

If maintaining control is the goal here, then carry on. But at least do it right.

Jessica Szilagyi
Written By

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of The Georgia Virtue. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta, a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast,' and she has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers." Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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