Process stymies Macon’s police recruiting

In early February, Macon Police Chief Mike Burns asked for $1,775 in travel expenses to send a recruiter to various job fairs.

It was a relatively pressing issue because the department’s vacancy rate was about 20 percent.

But the wheels of city government move slow. Monday, the Macon City Council’s Appropriations Committee first discussed the request and decided to give Burns $500 instead. At least six of the 10 job fairs the chief wanted registration fees and other expenses for passed in the interim.

There seem to be two reasons for this. The first is the much more stringent travel allowance policy the council put in place in the wake of former Mayor Jack Ellis’ administration. Council members were tired, they said, of vague justifications for trips under Ellis. The costs added up, when looked at citywide.

The other is that Burns made the request Feb. 3, according to the date of his initial memorandum. It was approved by Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Thomas on March 17, according to Thomas’ handwritten notation. It was received by the city finance office March 18, according to a date stamp on the memo.

It was discussed by the committee Monday. Thomas and city Finance Director Tom Barber couldn’t say Monday why the request took so long to process and get before council. They said, as other officials have argued under Mayor Robert Reichert, that it would be easier if the council eased back on travel spending restrictions.

Councilwoman Nancy White agreed, saying she was “embarrassed” by a policy that takes so much time to approve so little. “I think we’re punishing the current administration for the actions of one mayor,” she said.

The restrictions currently require a brief travel itinerary and full council vote unless the training is required for an employee to keep their job, such as re-certification training, Appropriations Chairman Mike Cranford said.

Burns said he couldn’t even approve $60 this year so the department’s recruiter could attend a job fair at Fort Valley State University. The chief didn’t have up-to-date vacancy figures Monday, but in February The Telegraph reported that 246 of the department’s 305 positions were filled.

“They can trust the police officers to make life and death decisions, but they can’t trust them with $60,” Burns said after Monday’s meeting.

Said Cranford: “Sixty dollars seems like a small amount. But look how many departments we have. ... We’re talking about a considerable amount of money.”

Cranford and other council members said the process may change this year as Reichert’s administration works with the council on the fiscal 2010 budget, which takes effect July 1. Having a new CAO and finance officer on board this year — neither Thomas nor Barber had been hired when the 2009 budget was done last year — should help, Cranford said.

As for the slowness of the request in this particular case, Cranford said that’s been a problem for years. Under Ellis the council would often complain about requests coming to them from the mayor’s office at the last minute.

“It really has not (gotten any better under Reichert),” Cranford said.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.