The University of Tennessee agency asked to review the Oak Ridge Police Department has questions about the expanded scope of the inquiry—it could now include all current employees and some former employees—and the Municipal Technical Advisory Service at UT could charge the city $50 per hour for its work on the project.
MTAS had initially proposed a free limited review of turnover, morale, and administrative policies in the Oak Ridge Police Department. That review, which would have interviewed a random sample or cross-section of ORPD employees, was approved by the Oak Ridge City Council during a March 27 special meeting.
But the City Council asked to start over after the initial list of employees to be interviewed was sent to the police chief, city manager, and all Police Department employees, raising concerns about the confidentiality and impartiality of the review.
During an April 21 special meeting, City Council agreed 5-2 to start over by asking MTAS to interview all employees and try to interview former employees who have left since Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi started on July 1, 2011. But that meant the city’s contract with MTAS, which had already started the initial review, had to be renegotiated.
On Thursday, MTAS sent Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch a letter asking for more information about the expanded scope of the inquiry. Those questions will be discussed during a City Council work session on Tuesday, May 5.
In the letter to Gooch, MTAS Executive Director Jim Thomas said the expanded inquiry “presents a very significant change to the original scope of work.” The additional information will help MTAS determine the project workload, Thomas said.
But, “It already appears that the MTAS resources needed to meet the new scope of work are significantly greater than under the original scope,” he said. “Assuming this to be the case, and should MTAS and the city move forward together, it is very likely that MTAS will charge the city $50 per hour for future MTAS work on this project.”
Thomas said he couldn’t estimate a total cost yet, but the additional information will help MTAS develop an estimate.
Among the questions from MTAS:
- How many total employees are to be interviewed, and how many former employees are affected? (Oak Ridge Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Smith has estimated that the total number of potential interviews could exceed 100. The Oak Ridge Police Department has 78 total budgeted positions, including clerical, dispatch, patrol, the animal shelter, and supervisors. As of March 14, there were 36 former employees that could potentially be interviewed during the review.)
- Will each employee be allowed to voluntarily participate in the interview process or will they be required to participate?
- Is the focus of the project still a limited review of Oak Ridge Police Department turnover, morale, and departmental policies and procedures?
During the April 21 special meeting, City Council also agreed in a 6-1 vote to designate the Oak Ridge Human Resources Director Penny Sissom as the point of contact for MTAS, allowing her to provide officer information to MTAS. That amendment would have MTAS contact the officers on duty, presumably to schedule interviews.
But Thomas said MTAS thinks the city should schedule interviews with current and former employees after it learns what dates and times MTAS consultants are available to conduct the interviews.
Also during the April 21 special meeting, Council agreed to establish a temporary email account that could allow other interested residents to provide input. Some citizens and former officers have said they would like to weigh in. Under the Council proposal, emails would only be considered from those who provide their name and full address, including city. They would be monitored, reviewed, and assembled by an MTAS affiliate and submitted to MTAS Police Management Consultant Rex Barton, who will lead the review, for possible inclusion in an MTAS report.
But Thomas said MTAS thinks the “most appropriate depository of ‘interested citizen’ comment is the City Council, not MTAS consultants.”
Also, there appears to be a conflict between “emails will only be considered from those who provide their name and full address, including city” and “for possible inclusion.”
“One indicates that any comment provided with the identifying information will be considered,” Thomas said. “The other indicates that the MTAS consultant will have full discretion in considering any comment, which MTAS prefers. Please clarify the intent of the Council.”
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson has said the decision to allow input from other interested citizens moves the review out of the technical realm and into the political.
Regarding confidentiality, Thomas said comments that appear in any MTAS reports will not include identifying information of those providing the comments.
The Tuesday work session starts at 5 p.m. in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Training Room.
See the MTAS letter here: MTAS Letter to Mayor Gooch April 30, 2015.