HAMLET — The words are dry, but the conversation they will stir is likely to be lively.
Under “Old Business,” the agenda for Tuesday’s City Council meeting lists: “Continued Discussion of Budgetary Issues Relating to the Police Department.”
City Manager Jonathan Blanton says that council member Jesse McQueen asked that the item be added, but that is all Blanton knows. McQueen wouldn’t tell him any more.
Mayor Bill Bayless knows “Jesse is working on something” to do with monthly crime reports and police expenditures, but he shakes his head when he says it because he doesn’t know particulars.
But throughout budget discussions concerning the Hamlet Police Department, from their first “pull out all the stops” presentation two months ago to a premature Charlotte TV report that the police request for a gang officer was dead — it can’t die or be revived officially until council members vote on the 2018-19 budget Tuesday — tension has surrounded the issue of whether Hamlet needs a dedicated gang officer
During the two latest meetings on the budget, McQueen repeatedly has said he wanted more concrete justification for a narcotics/gang officer; he wasn’t sure the rates of violent crime merited such an expense.
He faced push-back from other members — notably, former Rockingham Police Chief Eddie Martin, who said he would like to see such an officer, provided the city hired “the right one” — and from audience member Officer Chad Haywood, who had presented his department’s budget requests in March in a dramatic PowerPoint presentation.
“Right now, (gang activity)’s just a seed,” Haywood said at the April meeting. “We don’t want it to fester into a flower.”
Council members asked to see a plan for how such an officer would be hired and used, as well as current crime statistics before making a final decision.
So, in April, the gang officer’s position joined the temporary scrap heap with a car for city administrators ($21,000), an increase in demolition financing ($25,000, bringing the total to $50,000), new entrance signs at city limits ($15,000), a used pickup for firefighters to refurbish ($14,000), a police cruiser ($36,517), seven M-4 assault rifles for police officers ($4,550) and Tsunami cameras to post at public events ($24,000).
After the meeting, “someone” in the audience called the TV station — Blanton asked who and was told “someone” who had attended — which reported only on the portion of the budget proposing Hamlet hire an officer devoted solely to policing gangs.
The report didn’t mention that the city administration, Public Works and the Fire Department were denied requests for vehicles, or that the Police Department lost its pleas for other equipment.
The TV reporter spoke with police and city officials, bringing up anew the cancellation of July 4 festivities last year — a cancellation at first pegged to the fear of gang reprisals connected to the shooting death of Tierrell Martin outside the Circle B convenience store but later downplayed.
From the time Osborne claimed during the department’s presentation that 11 deaths within the past year likely were tied to gang activity and should be considered murders, McQueen — a former Hamlet police officer and criminal justice adjunct at UNC-Pembroke — has expressed skepticism.
He has asked to view the department’s monthly crime reports.
He has asked precisely how the department arrived at the number 11, since in no recent year have Uniform Crime Statistics reported to the FBI listed anywhere near 11 murders in the county, much less Hamlet.
On Tuesday, presumably, McQueen will discuss what he has found. (McQueen was out of town for the weekend and could not be reached by telephone Friday.)
Whether his information will affect the next item on the agenda — “Presentation of the Manager’s Budget Message” — is unknown.
The meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Council chambers, at 201 W. Main St., Hamlet.
The city’s draft budget comes in at $8,235,325. If approved, it would force the city to draw $573,000 from savings to balance its budget.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]