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Council denies allegations of attempting to abolish CBPD

At a Nov. 14 special meeting at 9:30 a.m., Colonial Beach Town Council denied attempts to abolish the Colonial Beach Police Department (CBPD), stating that the notion was only rumors. Despite audience members who watched or attended previous meetings, stating the council was unclear about their intentions, the council members continued to deny intentions of looking into abolishing of the CBPD.

Colonial Beach Town Council has skirted around the issue of what to do with the Colonial Beach Police Department since the Oct. 10 Council meeting. At that meeting, a discussion with Westmoreland County Sheriff C.O. Balderson was on the agenda but did not state the nature of the discussions. Balderson did not attend, and council members were not specific about the nature of the requested talks. However, Mayor Mike Ham stated in a phone interview on the following Monday, that a few council members had requested Balderson meet with them in an open session to discuss consolidation of the Colonial Beach Police Department and the Westmoreland Sheriff’s Office.

At the Oct. 24 Council work session, what began with a discussion, started by Councilman Jim Chiarello, to move along with the process of hiring a permanent police chief, turned into a series of disagreements between council members on how, or if, they should proceed with the hiring process.

On Oct. 24, the issue brought up by some council members was that it would be inappropriate to move on with hiring an officer until the town decided what to do with the CBPD. Council members did not say specifically what they where looking into. After several comments made by council members, Ham addressed the audience to clear up what he called “rumors.”

Ham said at the Oct. 24 meeting, “From a legal standpoint, let me clarify something first. There are rumors everywhere that we, certain people, maybe the whole council, maybe the whole entire town, have asked Sheriff C.O. Balderson to quote, can he take over out police department? Or quote, can we merge our police department with his? The attorneys will tell you, C.O. Balderson will tell you, neither of those is an option. So right now, we need to make a decision whether we want to abolish the police department. We can’t just merge it, or give it away, or say, ‘Take it’. That’s the issue we need to come up to.”

That statement by Ham left press and the public to believe the council was looking into options to abolish the police department. A meeting was set for Nov. 14 at 9:30 a.m., to hear legal opinion from Town Attorney Andrea Erard. The meeting announcement only read, “Discussion of the Colonial Beach Police Department.” Again, the purpose of the meeting was not clearly stated.

At the Nov. 14, 9:30 a.m. special council meeting, the council ultimately denied trying to abolish or merge the CBPD, but did say they were looking at options. The council continued to be vague about “what options” they were exploring. Members of the audience who commented, continued to ask the council to be specific. Almost all speakers stated the lack of specificity gave them no choice but to take Ham’s words to heart.

At the start of the Nov. 14 special meeting, Mayor Ham made a quick statement to address newspaper reports and talk around town and feelings that some discussions were taking place behind the scene. “Some people have been told that the council has decided to do away with the police department. That is not the case, at this point.”

By saying, ‘At this point,’ Ham did not denied talks concerning abolishing the CBPD. He went on to say, “The reason we convened this meeting was to have an open discussion, invite the public and come to a consensus over which way the council wants to go on this issue.”

Ham did admit that there have been discussions concerning options for the department, but again, did not specifically address what those options were. He concluded his opening remarks by saying, “We talked individually about looking at options. Is our police department what we want? Is it set up the way we wanted? Do we want to look at alternatives to provide security and police protection for the town? With that, I will open it up to any other members that want to make an opening statement.”

Later that evening, after the 7 p.m. Nov. 14 regular council meeting, The Journal asked the mayor for the specific reason for that morning’s meeting. Ham replied, “To decide whether or not the council, as a group, wanted to explore having the sheriff give us a proposal and abolish our police department. And we voted not to do so. There were too many rumors running around, so we said it was time that the council makes a statement instead of listening to individuals.”

At he early morning meeting at 9:30 a.m., Councilman Tim Curtin was first to comment after the mayor. Curtin was obviously upset. He began, “To say there’s been some rumors flashed around by this, is putting it mildly.”

Curtin said he would address rumors attributed to him, in his remarks but never did. After the close of the meeting he spoke briefly to The Journal, stating that rumors about his motivation for exploring options, were circulating both around town and in social media. He also said that members of the council who had told him they wanted alternatives to the CBPD had recanted. Curtin did not say what the rumors were, or which members of council recanted.

In his opening remarks at the Nov. 14 meeting, Curtin stated that “suggesting that we’re looking at eliminating the police department and leaving it up to the Sheriff’s Department to figure out a way to cover this town” were either lies or originated from people who were misinformed. “Anybody in the community that’s been privy to any of the discussions we’ve had knows it, too. All it’s been about is trying to find a way to give the town what it deserves, spending the taxpayers’ money in the wisest possible manner.”

Curtin alleged that the press and the trust of friends and neighbors were being misused saying “It’s just not right,” and suggested,  “If you aren’t fully informed of the facts, seek out somebody who is.”

Next to weigh in was Councilman Jim Chiarello who said that clarification was important to him. He said, “What any reasonable, sensible person would do in any situation is consider options. This is all that was done, was a consideration, look at options to see where we should go.”

Chiarello said, “The best outcome in this situation, in my opinion, is to keep the police force intact, the way it is. Build it up, make it stronger, make it better.”

At this point in the meeting, Councilman Tommy Edwards, who is also the point of contact for Public Safety, asked for a show of hands from the council, to inform the public, which members are in favor of merging with the county. He said, “To get things going here, before we move forward, to move onto whether we’re going to go out and apply for, and get applications for a police chief, I would like to see a show of hands, who wants to go to the sheriff’s department? If you want this police force to be taken over by the sheriff’s department, raise your hand,” Edwards urged the council.

Edwards ended saying, “People know my stance, I don’t want to get rid of this police department... Now is the time to come forward. ”

Councilman Gary Seeber was the first council member to give any details about the options that the council was looking at. He said, “A year ago, we looked at outsourcing trash pick-up. I’ve been asking for two or three years for us to get an outside non-trusted source to come in and look at how much the school really costs Colonial Beach. This is just one more egg in that same basket.”

Seeber said he believed the police department is one place the town could save some money. He said the town could, “Have a contract with somebody to perform the same duties; keep the same number of people in town; for the same number of hours. It’s a financial investigation, in my mind.”

Seeber added that the best way to get folks to come out and say how they feel about a subject is to start talking about it. “If it gets the people to come out and say, ‘You guys are full of hogwash,’ that’s not a bad thing.”

Councilwoman Linda Brubaker stated she has not met with the sheriff’s office on the matter officially, but admitted the conversation had come up. She said, “I want to go on record to say I have not met with Sheriff Balderson or Captain [Lieutenant] Hawkins regarding a merge of the Colonial Beach Police Department on an official basis.”  Brubaker said she has a personal relationship with both men, “I would be lying if I told you the topic did not come up.”

Brubaker said she was for an open dialog with the sheriff’s department for financial reasons, as Seeber stated. Brubaker said if we could save some money, that would be a good thing, “But I am not, at this time, for a merger or takeover or whatever we want to call it.”

Councilwoman Wanda Goforth neither admitted nor denied an attempt to abolish the CBPD, however she denied the council is attempting to take action that would leave less law enforcement.

Goforth said, “I think Mr. Seeber summed this up very, very well. I know it was reported that we wanted the sheriff’s department, but that’s not true. What we wanted was what Ms. Brubaker said, we wanted a dialog. But to think or believe that we were ever going to do anything to have less law enforcement officers here, is just not true.”

Goforth said that although the council never had the sheriff come and speak with the council, she did speak with Balderson “about this.” She did not specify what her conversation was, but stated, “Never was any decision made to do away with our police department.”

Goforth said, “We want the best law enforcement department we can have.”  Goforth said she is concerned about costs.
Goforth ended by saying, “At this point, I think it’s a moot issue; I would think that we’re going to go on and hire a police chief, but I’m not saying that it’s not something that won’t come up in a year or two.”

Never in any previous meetings did the council mention saving money as a reason for discussing, starting a dialog or seeking legal opinion in matters concerning the CBPD.

At this point, Seeber spoke up, saying, “I thought the purpose of the meeting was that the lawyer was going to tell us what the laws were concerning...” Seeber did not finish his statement. Town Attorney Andrea Erard responded immediately that she would be happy to do so.

Erard discussed only the laws surrounding the town’s ability to have the golf cart ordinance as stated in chapter 46.2-916 of the Code of Virginia Code. The subject never turned to a discussion of the law concerning merging with Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office, abolishing the police department or hiring outside security.

Erard said, “State Code allows a town to have a golf cart ordinance provided you have a police department that meets the requirements of state code.”  Erard told the council that the requirements for counties differ from those in a town.
Seeber asked Erard to sum up what the minimum requirements are.

Erard said that there are minimum requirements for the training of police officers. Beyond that, Erard read several requirements, including funding requirements.

Seeber requested clarification by saying, “So the way I understand that, if you have one well-trained police chief, that satisfies that legal requirement.”

Erard hesitated, saying, “I would want to look at the funding sources that we get, because it could be different but...yes, under this one, but I still want to do further exploration.”

Next, Mayor Ham opened the floor up to the public to make comments.

After hearing from several members of the public in support of keeping the CBPD intact, Public Safety Point of Contact, Tommy Edwards, made a motion to pass a resolution which stated: “The Colonial Beach Town Council supports keeping the Colonial Beach Police Department as an integral part of the team.”

Councilman Jim Chiarello seconded.

Councilman Curtin commented, “I’m struggling to find the words to really,” Curtin paused for a moment, “Why bother? Ok, from the way that key members of this council have flipped their opinion of even having a discussion with the sheriff, it’s not going to happen. The debate’s been hijacked by rumor mongering and misinformation and outright lies, so why are we even bothering?”

Councilman Edwards replied, “It’s very simple- are you for it, or are you against it? State your case- yes or no?”

Curtin said, “I will be abstaining, and that is why, because I think it’s a meaningless vote to...for whatever reason it is.”
All members voted in favor of the resolution, and Curtin abstained.

After the vote, the meeting was promptly adjourned, and the council proceeded with plans for a closed meeting to discuss the performance of the town manager. Councilman Tim Curtin left after the 9:30 a.m. meeting and returned within the hour to hand over his resignation to the council. The council later voted to approve his resignation “with regrets” at the regular meeting that evening at 7 p.m.

The two closed meetings held that morning to discuss the performance of the Town Police Chief and Town Manager, both ended with no statements made or actions taken by the council.

Linda Farneth

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