Columbia, SC - After months and weeks of debate, Columbia city council shot down a proposal Wednesday that would have contracted Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott to manage the Columbia police department.
On a 6-1 vote, council instead approved hiring a police chief and appointing a commission to study the possibility of a unified police force. Councilwoman Belinda Gergel was the only dissenting vote. Gergel favored hiring Sheriff Lott immediately.
"This discussion over law enforcement, it was spirited, it was disclipined, it was respectful," says Mayor Steve Benjamin
Benjamin says the city should be able to hire a police chief by the end of the calendar year but points out the decision is up to the city manager. "I think three months is more than enough time to have an open and agressive search for a qualified law enforcement professional."
The committee's first report is due in March of 2011. Benjamin wants members of the law enforcement community to be a part of that committee.
The mayor says he doesn't think this plan will discourage potential candidates from accepting the job. "I firmly believe we'll have a search that's of course available to anyone around the country who wants to apply, but I believe right here in this community we have wonderful law enforcement professionals."