Council to keep unified BPS; new director sought

Published 5:51 pm Monday, March 21, 2011

[flowplayer src=’’ width=400 height=224 autoplay=false]

Chief Larry Funderburke’s comments on Bainbridge Public Safety Division

The Bainbridge City Council will keep the current Bainbridge Public Safety model of officers cross-trained for police work and firefighting as the city begins its search for a new director.

Email newsletter signup

Current Bainbridge Public Safety Director Larry Funderburke argued at the council’s annual retreat that the agency should be split up into two departments. Funderburke announced he would retire at the end of December and didn’t want his successor to have to worry about issues he sees with running a joint department.

In Funderburke’s view, BPS does not have enough officers per shift to effectively provide police and fire protection at the same time. He also said in his experience, potential BPS hires usually prove to be more interested in police work than firefighting, making it difficult to attract and retain officers.

In his presentation to the council later on Friday, City Manager Chris Hobby said he didn’t believe splitting up BPS is a feasible option. According to Hobby, running two separate city-run police and fire departments would cost at least an additional $1.5 million per year, based on an analysis he conducted two years ago.

“The question of whether BPS has adequate manpower is a legitimate argument,” Hobby said. “But unless we are willing to significantly raise taxes, [splitting up BPS] is not a viable option. We will need to emphasize to whoever we hire [as the next director] that this is our system, we’ve got to make it work.”

The council discussed several issues related to Public Safety, including manpower, the possibility of a southside fire station and the importance of officers having sufficient training. The council’s bulleted list of action items coming out of the retreat includes the statement:

“The council makes a strong statement supporting the public safety model and the city manager and mayor will address issues related to public safety personnel.”

Applications taken starting April 1

Hobby said he and Mayor Edward Reynolds chose members for a committee that will conduct a nationwide search for a new BPS director. Committee members are as follows: former Mayor Mark Harrell, Eddie Brinson, Dr. Linda Lumpkin, Ryan Cleveland and Dustin Dowdy.

The application period for the BPS director position will run from April 1 to May 31, according to Hobby. The committee will run advertisements in a variety of media linking to a hiring brochure on the city’s Web site.

“The Mayor and I met with the committee and instructed them to conduct a nationwide, exhaustive search,” Hobby said. “We asked them to run ads in publications of interest to [public safety] professionals so that we can find the best possible candidate.”

The committee was asked to conduct at least one face-to-face interview with each qualified candidate and after doing so, recommend one to four names to city staff. According to Reynolds, the city’s charter stipulates that the city’s appointed management staff are responsible for hires, meaning the council will not weigh in on the final decision.

Conducting the search

Hobby said the reason the committee was asked to recommend four maximum finalists was to maintain confidentiality, as Georgia open records law requires that the identities of the final three candidates for certain government officials, including chief law enforcement officer, be released.

“I want [the committee] to be confident that any of the four finalists could be hired,” Hobby said.

Finalists will be brought to Bainbridge, one at a time, to tour the town, meet with important people around town and go to dinner with the mayor and council,” Hobby said.

Hobby said that while the council won’t have a direct input on the hiring, he believes it will be good for the council to see how the person interacts with others and  see whether their personality will be a fit for the position.

The committee should be finished selecting four finalists by August or September, with a hiring decision being made around October, Hobby said. The new BPS director will begin employment in late November or December, to give him or her time to get their bearings before Funderburke leaves.

Hobby said he made it clear to the committee that there is no favorable internal candidate and he has no expectation that they will necessarily provide the city with any local finalists for the job.

“There is no pressure to push anyone through,” Hobby said. “That’s why we’re making sure we are doing this nationally, to attract the right person. This is a unique position; we are one of the few departments like ours in the nation.”

About the search committee

A concrete contractor by trade, Brinson is a member of the Bainbridge Planning Commission and a former BPS officer himself. Lumpkin is the assistant superintendent for human resources for Decatur County Schools. Cleveland is a local attorney and former assistant district attorney. Dowdy, whose official title is assistant to the city manager, is also the city’s zoning administrator and planner.