Note: This story was last updated at 12:08 p.m.
A review of the Oak Ridge Police Department by a University of Tennessee agency could cost $26,200.
The Oak Ridge City Council has asked the Municipal Technical Advisory Service at UT to review the ORPD, with a particular focus on turnover, morale, and administrative policies.
The initial 30-day review approved during a March 27 special meeting was going to be free. But an uproar ensued 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.
The City Council then expanded the scope of the inquiry. During an April 21 special meeting, members asked MTAS to interview all ORPD employees and try to interview former workers who have left in the roughly four years since Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi started.
That list could include an estimated 112 employees: 76 current employees and 36 former workers. It’s not clear yet how long those interviews might take, or whether all current and former employees will want to participate.
The expanded review, which was approved 5-2 during the April 21 meeting, meant the contract with MTAS had to be renegotiated. MTAS said it could now charge $50 per hour for the work.
Council will consider a new professional services agreement with MTAS during a special meeting that starts at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 21, in the Municipal Building Courtroom. It’s the fourth special meeting or work session focused on the ORPD review. Council has also discussed the review during its regular monthly meetings and heard from citizens and a few current and former officers.
During Thursday’s special meeting, City Council could also consider two other resolutions if members don’t approve the new professional services agreement with MTAS.
In the first alternate resolution, the City Council would ask MTAS to complete their initial proposal dated March 3, with the Oak Ridge Personnel Department scheduling interviews with Police Department employees and the City Council starting additional initiatives that it has already approved—after it receives and reviews the MTAS proposal.
The initial proposal, approved 5-1-1 during the March 27 meeting, was to interview a randomly selected group of Police Department employees, other city employees and officers, and possibly community leaders not directly employed by the city.
In the second alternate resolution to be considered Thursday, the City Council would ask the City of Oak Ridge to put out a request for qualifications, or RFQ, for an ORPD review, with a particular focus on turnover, morale, and administrative policies.
The City Council has been wrestling with the proposed review since late January, when Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn raised questions about what she suggested is a high turnover rate in the ORPD. Baughn also cited concerns expressed by a former officer in a personnel grievance, by a few writers using pseudonyms in anonymous emails, and by former officers and former Oak Ridge Police Chief David Beams in letters to the media and City Council, among other issues.
Responding to questions about the expanded inquiry, MTAS said Tuesday in a letter to Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch that interviews for the review must be conducted with a randomly selected pool of current and former employees to preserve the “ultimate credibility of the review.”
But since the City Council has directed that all current and former employees be given a chance to talk, the randomly selected pool would be interviewed before the remaining current and former employees, MTAS Executive Director Jim Thomas said.
During its April 21 meeting, Council agreed 6-1 vote to designate the city’s human resources director 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 to schedule interviews.
But in the Tuesday letter to Gooch, Thomas said the agency thinks “it is most appropriate for city staff to schedule the interviews based upon availability of MTAS consultants.”
Thomas also said a temporary email account proposed by City Council to allow other interested residents to provide input should be managed by City Council, and not MTAS, as Council members have proposed.
“Those persons already have the most appropriate forum for that purpose at each and every City Council meeting,” Thomas said.
He said MTAS has already spent an estimated 60 hours on the review on the initial but recently expired agreement. That contract was signed April 9 and expired May 9.
Even if the city doesn’t proceed with MTAS, the agency will summarize the work for the city, even though it’s not required to do so, Thomas said.
See the special meeting agenda here: Special CC Meeting 05212015.
See Thomas’ letter here: MTAS May 19 Letter to Mayor Gooch.
More information will be added as it becomes available.