With the recent uproar centered around the Police Department in our rear view mirrors, I think it is important to review what was accomplished and why.
The decision to perform a functional audit on the Police Department is a good step especially when taken in context. These kinds of audits focus on best practices, applied over the department’s field of responsibility that need to be reviewed periodically depending on a department’s complexity and size. Besides just by a calendar rotation, other events to trigger such reviews may include leadership turnover in the department to give incoming management a clean slate of actions and priorities.
I believe that since this door has been opened, it would be wise to broaden it city-wide. Think about whether such an audit could have raised awareness of our lack of proper sewer maintenance over the decades and prevented the rush and financial inconvenience that the mandate from the EPA imposes.
As for the topics that were not adopted by the City Council, I hope that the city recognizes its responsibility for the way in which these charges were leveled and will offer to reimburse Chief Akagi for his very appropriate legal expenses.
One topic that was not adopted was an order of censure covering the inappropriate process that included the public airing of accusations against an employee of the city without due process. One response that I heard was that censure is not allowed because there is no censure process defined in the city charter. Well, there is no provision for censure defined in the U.S. Constitution either, yet the legislative branch takes advantage of this worthwhile constraint on member misdeeds through its chamber rules. We have a city charter review coming up and it could be added then, or the council could just adopt binding rules that it chooses to follow even if an individual member chooses not to.
There should be no place in Oak Ridge for anyone being accused without a fair hearing with due process. We can all recall an example where censure has worked in the U.S. Senate censure against Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin in the 1950s. People were accused publicly and bullied by a process in which their guilt was assumed even when not proven. The censure simply removed the senator from the committee role that he had abused. It did not remove him from representing his constituents that had elected him. Unfortunately, Oak Ridge needs censure until our Council is allowed to act, as designed, to conduct our local government in a fair and effective manner.
And finally, I believe that it is appropriate to remember that some of this turmoil is self-inflicted by our own actions. We knew that many city issues were neglected when we choose Mark Watson as the city manager. We knew that many criminal activities were not being effectively handled when we, the City Council, and the city manager supported Jim Akagi as the police chief. We knew that there were conflicts between the city and the schools when our school board selected Bruce Borchers as the superintendent of schools.
We wanted changes and we picked change agents in all three positions. The city is doing so much more that it had, and we are on the edge of greater things ahead. Oak Ridge’s drug problem is in much better control with Chief Akagi’s leadership in implementing community policing programs. The schools and the city have agreed to the school resource officer program, and the stories coming from Borchers’ schools are excitingly positive.
But not everyone is happy when changes occur. The former police chief had a secession plan, but when it was scrapped, the lieutenants and sergeants found themselves back out more into the community instead of a possible promotion. It is no wonder many left.
What I think the City Council did was to say that they wanted to be fair. I know they will continue to believe this, and I hope this one goal will forever be our standard as we deal with one another.