BoC vote and contract to conduct Griffin PD operational assessment cloaked in secrecy

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

The Griffin Board of Commissioners has voted to authorize an operational assessment of the Griffin Police Department.

The vote authorizing City Attorney Drew Whalen to move forward with a contract for this assessment was taken during the BoC’s Nov. 22 meeting.

All discussion about the operational assessment and the vote authorizing Whalen to enter a contract with Law Enforcement Risk Management Group (LERMG) occurred behind closed doors in executive session with no public discussion or vote afterward.

The BoC meeting agenda cited two bases for the executive session. The first was “for the purpose of consulting and meeting with legal counsel pertaining to pending or potential litigation, settlement, claims, administrative proceedings, or other judicial actions brought or to be brought by or against the agency or any officer or employee or in which the agency or any officer or employee may be directly involved,” and the second cited “for the purpose of discussing or deliberating upon the appointment, employment, compensation, hiring, disciplinary action or dismissal, or periodic evaluation or rating of a public officer or employee.”

Despite those bases being legally permissible under Georgia’s Sunshine Laws governing open meetings, The GRIP questioned the legality of not following the closed-door executive session vote with a public vote in open meeting.

Griffin City Manager Jessica O’Connor contends a public vote was not required.

“Because it’s not our contract. It’s not with us (the city of  Griffin),” O’Connor said. “It’s between Drew (Whalen) and LERMG.”

Asked why the matter then required any BoC discussion and a vote in executive session, O’Connor said, “Because it’s about our agency. It’s about the Griffin Police Department. Drew is going to be providing us with advice based on what happens with this assessment, so don’t we need to know about that?”

That raised questions concerning why the contract is between Whalen and LERMG rather than the city of Griffin and LERMG.

“Because Drew’s our city attorney. He would be the one that would provide legal advice to the Police Department That’s part of his contract with us as city attorney,” O’Connor said.

Whalen’s contractual involvement is pertinent as it is now the city’s basis for refusing to release the contract.

In response to an Open Records request seeking production of the contract, the city cited three bases of denial – records containing communications subject to attorney-client privilege; confidential attorney work product; and records consisting of material obtained in investigations related to the suspension, firing, or investigation of complaints against public officers or employees.

Officials have not disclosed which city employee the third exception refers to.

When The GRIP asserted that Whalen would have remained capable of providing the same legal advice if the contract was between the city of Griffin and LERMG, O’Connor said, “Yeah, that’s true. I’ll be honest with you…this is a little convoluted in my opinion, as well, but this is what our insurance company has required of us, this is what the civil attorney has suggested we do, so that’s what I’m going with. I don’t have a better answer than that.”

According to O’Connor, the city’s insurance provider, the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency (GIRMA), the Georgia Municipal Association’s (GMA) property and liability program, will be paying a portion of the GPD operational assessment’s cost.

An Open Records request to GIRMA also failed to produce the contract.

“GIRMA and GMA do not have any documents responsive to your request,” GMA Director of Risk Management Services Stan Deese said of the contract that specifies details of the GPD operational assessment and its costs.

O’Connor said the assessment will be comprehensive and cover records for the past three years.

“We’ve got an attorney that used to be a police chief that is coming,” she said. “He’s known nationally for his training, his procedural policies, writing, for everything – constitutionality – so, he is coming in and looking through a couple of those high-risk tasks that we do to either give us suggestions on revisions or training, based on what he finds.”

That police chief-cum-lawyer is Jack Ryan, co-owner of Law Enforcement Risk Management Group, which is based in Rhode Island.

“I don’t know if he’ll do this at random or if he’ll look at all, but he’s going to look at any kind of IAs, any kind of complaints, any search warrants, police reports, any lawsuits if we’ve had something in the past occur; he’ll pull random body cam videos, all the training records, policies and procedures, he’ll interview supervisors and members of GPD, conduct ride-alongs with officers, and then he’ll conversate with the city attorney for any kinds of findings and recommendations,” O’Connor said. “He does on-site assessments, so, like, all the written policies, and will do an off-site assessment, as well.”

O’Connor is uncertain if the GPD operational assessment will result in a written report or how the findings will be presented to Whalen and other city officials.

“It depends, and that’s what he (Ryan) told me. That was his answer. If a lot of it is just, ‘Hey, I think we need to make this revision,’ then he’ll be the one to help us craft a revision to things that we already have in writing. If it’s more of a, ‘This is what needs to change in how you operate,’ then that may have to be something that is done from scratch,” she said.

Asked what prompted the GPD operational assessment, O’Connor said, “I would say most recently the report on WSB, but I’ve also realized that I think it’s a good idea just every once in a while to go back and take a look at what you do to make sure that you’ve kept up to date with any kind of case law changes, any kind of statutory changes, and so I think it’s just time that we did one of our agency.”

The November 2022 WSB report O’Connor referenced pertains to an August 2021 GPD CAGE Unit traffic stop that resulted in the public roadside strip search of a female occupant.

City officials have been aware of that traffic stop since at least December 2021 when an ante litem notice – legal notification of intent to possibly file a lawsuit – was given by Atlanta attorney Mark Bullman.

Because the Whalen-LERMG contract is being withheld, the cost is unknown.

It is scheduled to begin in January and is to be completed within 30 days.

GPD Chief Mike Yates is aware of the pending operational assessment.

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Comments

  1. Marie Broder was right not to go after the low-hanging fruit. Too often, the low person on the totem pole becomes the scapegoat when it’s not this fault.

  2. Brandy Byard says:

    The lawsuit should also include Marie Broder, who said they did everything as trained. She needs to be replaced just as Yates does!

  3. Karen Delp says:

    Why does the city employ a city attorney and Drew Whalen as city attorney?

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