Social Circle studies reporting structure

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- Social Circle is considering a change to its charter that would revise the status of the public safety director, requiring him to report directly to the mayor and city council rather than to the city manager.

City Councilwoman Angela Porter brought the request to the Social Circle City Council during its monthly meeting Tuesday. She said the public safety director reports to the city manager and she would like that to change.

"In light of a lot of issues with the Public Safety Department, I would propose changing the public safety director so he reports directly to the mayor and council, along with the city manager and the city clerk," Porter said.

Porter's request comes on the heels of two federal lawsuits pitting former employees of the city's Public Safety Department against the city and the city manager, Doug White.

The first suit was filed by Chauncey M. Dixon, the city's first black police officer, who claimed he was the victim of ongoing racism during his tenure with the police department, which ultimately resulted in his termination. The city and White denied those allegations and the suit was settled in August.

Also in August, former Police Chief Steve Shelton filed a lawsuit claiming he was forced to resign after 25 years with Social Circle.

He claims in his complaint that his attempts to promote Dixon were rejected by the city manager. Furthermore, Shelton claims, an investigation into an internal complaint against him and Dixon was handled improperly by the city manager.

Shelton has qualified as a candidate for the District 4 City Council seat. He will face local businessman Crenan Mills in the Nov. 8 election.

City Attorney Joe Reitman said he would research whether this kind of change to the city's charter needs to be done through the state Legislature or can be achieved through home rule.

According to the Georgia Municipal Association, significant changes to a charter may only be made by a legislative act. However, other lesser amendments to city charters, such as setting duties and compensation of city employees, can be accomplished by an action of the city council.

"I suggest we take this under consideration and evaluate the pros and cons," Mayor Jim Burgess said.

"As long as it's done in a timely manner," Porter said.

In other news, the City Council asked Public Safety Director Tom Fox to conduct a traffic study on Alcova Road. Mayor Jim Burgess said a citizen has complained many drivers exceed the speed limit on the road, which has a posted limit of 45 mph. That citizen has requested the speed limit be dropped to 30 mph.