As council debates CPD/RCSD merger, civility pledge sought by ma - - Columbia, South Carolina |

As council debates CPD/RCSD merger, civility pledge sought by mayor

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Columbia City Council members are scheduled to meet in Wednesday evening to talk about leadership at the Columbia Police Department.

That doesn't mean a new chief has been chosen just yet, but City Manager Teresa Wilson says she's getting close to make a decision and an announcement.

The field of candidates has shrunk even further. One of the finalists, A. Tony Fisher, withdrew his name. He is the retired Director of Spartanburg Public Safety.

Wednesday night's meeting at city hall will focus largely on issues of consolidation with the Richland County Sheriff's Department.

The idea was not new: city and Richland County leaders sitting down for serious discussions on consolidating at least some functions of their governments including public safety.

But when Councilman Cameron Runyan called on the city manager to stop her search for a new police chief so more talks could take place, he drew sharp criticism from others on council.

Runyan defended his proposal, saying council wasted an opportunity four years ago by not fully examining the possibility of combining the two law enforcement agencies. He says while it still may not be the right time to merge, the discussion still needs to be had.

"I've continued to hear from my constituents and the business community and from neighborhoods, more and more, a louder and louder chorus of folks crying out for 'Let's have this discussion,'" said Runyan. "We were supposed to have it four years ago. We've not had it, and so I felt the proper time to have it, the best time to have it, is when there is no chief. And so, recognizing of course the clock is running and the past two months being unable to get a public discussion going, I decided to take it public because of the outcry I was hearing from the community."

Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine disagreed wiith the proposal.

"I really think we need to look at the issue we're trying to resolve and how that's going to be resolved," said Devine. "And certainly, if that's leadership within the department, I don't know how having a sheriff, who has another agency that he's managing, that he has to take care of, over this department actually gives you more leadership there."

With Runyan running into resistance, he started moving in another direction Wednesday in an effort to dial down the heated rhetoric between council members.

"There's an enormous amount of acrimony within the council, and it is very disconcerting to me and it's really settled in in the last couple of days that we're hired to be the leaders of the city as to represent the best virtues of the city," said Runyan. "We're not doing that. Council's not doing that."

Tuesday, Mayor Steve Benjamin issued a similar plea. The mayor, who remains out of the country, released a statement asking for more mutual respect on council and even something he called a "Citywide Civility Standard and Accord."

"It's all of our faults," said Runyan. "When Alexander the Great said, 'On the conduct of each depends the fate of all,' a slow leak will sink a ship and what may have started with a slow leak is now a full-blown gash in the hull of city council and we've got to stop what we're doing and we've got to take stock of where we are with how we're dialoguing." 

There is another item on Wednesday night's agenda added this afternoon. It is a resolution "authorizing the city manager to continue with the police chief employment search."

Wilson says she's not sure why that resolution is needed. She says she intends to make an announcement of the new chief next week.

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