Missing cars another black eye for the city

Published 5:48 pm Saturday, March 28, 2009

The saga of the missing cars taken by the Selma Police Department as evidence nearly three years ago speaks volumes about how the past continues to prohibit growth in the city’s future.

One can only shake a head at the so-called explanation given at last week’s Selma City Council meeting, which resulted in pointing of fingers, instead of some kind of resolution. Facts are the debacle cost the Selma Police Department $8,600 during a budget crunch when there’s really no money to be found.

It is interesting to us that Sgt. Jimmy Martin, the former police chief on whose watch the cars and money went missing, was not questioned more in depth by members of the city council. Surely members of the council were not intimidated by the media being there. Perhaps the council didn’t know enough to ask more probing questions of Martin.

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It appears nobody has gone in behind him and taken a hard look at the practices and foibles that occurred during his administration. You might say firing him was enough.

Seems to me it isn’t. After all, Martin continues to draw a salary as a police sergeant, the same rank he had before former Mayor James Perkins Jr. hired him as chief of police. Martin still takes a patrol car home into another county each day.

Some wanted to handle this situation behind closed doors to spare the city and the individuals involved. That, too, is ridiculous. Hiding behind closed-door session — questionable closed-door session at that — is the very reason Selma’s city government got into the predicament it’s in after the last eight years.

Last week, at an orientation session held for city council members, council President Dr. Geraldine Allen chastised her colleagues for releasing information to The Selma Times-Journal prior to it coming out at a City Hall meeting. Facts are, if the newspaper hadn’t gotten its hands on the memo to council members from Mayor George Evans, the public likely would not have known about the missing cars. Allen has encouraged members of the council to conduct official business before it gets out into the public. This kind of spin control is exactly why the city is in the shape that it’s in. I respect Dr. Allen and what she stands for. She’s just misguided in this respect.

I appreciate Evans for keeping everything out in the open as painful as that might have been. He even announced that another car taken as evidence during the same police administration was missing, and the owner wants payment for it. This is the kind of openness I expect from government and I suspect a good many of my fellow residents of Selma expect.

This city needs a full-scale investigation from the outside into what has occurred in the police department during the last eight years. This is the only way the police department will regain its credibility. I’m not so sure we can depend on the Alabama Attorney General’s Office to conduct such an investigation in a timely manner. He hasn’t come forward with any of the probes he has launched in this city, including the accusations of overpayments to certain members of the Selma Water Works and Sewer Board.

One suggestion is to seek an outside moderator with a law enforcement background and create a board of citizens to conduct an investigation. This quasi-public board would hold open hearings to determine what happened and why. The board would have to act as more than just information receivers. Members of the board would have to appoint someone to conduct a thorough investigation of the paper. It’s obvious that some would lie to protect their skins and their pensions. After a series of open hearings and research, the board would make recommendations to the city council and mayor about the proper action to take.

Right now, the information coming from the police department prior to William T. Riley III taking over is like an infected wound. If we don’t clean it out, the whole body politic becomes infected. We’ve seen the results of that.