A standing room only crowd filled the Bonifay City Council chambers on Monday, August 28, as they waited to hear if the Bonifay Police Department would be shut down by council members.
In a tense 3-2 vote, the council voted to keep BPD running.
Several members of the community addressed the council on the subject with Richard Willsey leading the march. Willsey expressed his concerns on the proposed budget which consisted of three options. Those options were the original proposed budget for BPD at $1,049,312.31, the proposed Holmes County Sheriff’s Office outsourcing budget at $635,000, and the adjusted BPD budget at $635,315.49.
“While there may be budget restrictions, the budget is the scapegoat in this scenario,” said Willsey. “No matter how you look at it, if you choose to close the police department, you have defunded the police. The county needs to take care of the county; the city needs to take care of the city. This budget is a farce.”
Willsey brought up several concerns in the proposed budget including travel allowances, fuel costs, and various differences between the police department budget and the fire department budget. Willsey went on to further state, “Only one department has proposed budget cuts totaling $10,000. That was the police department. The more I look at this budget the more I am convinced this council wants to do away with the police department.”
“You hired Chief Macon to do a job and he is doing his job,” said audience member Sonya Booth. “In the long run what this unmitigated effort to close our police department has done is brought forward the shortcomings of this council. It has made us aware of the egregious acts by the elected officials in our city and our county that they have gotten away with for so long.”
“We need to remind you that you are elected officials,” she added. “Your biases and prejudices have no place here, nor do your friends or personal ambitions. This is a place for the people of Bonifay. If you are going to play politics, you need to be above reproach. The council laid out $70,000 for a personal assistant; I own a business and I don’t make that much. Where is the accountability? This is your accountability right here. Remember that just as quickly as you were voted in, we can vote someone else in to take your place.”
Earlier in the meeting, Willsey addressed the council on the personal assistant position stating it had not been advertised and was just created and given to former council member Sierra Smith. City Attorney Michelle Jordan gave the following statement after the meeting.
“The administrative assistant job was advertised publicly for two weeks on the City’s website and in the Holmes County Advertiser, and only one application was received,” said Jordan. “That applicant was hired.”
Angela Willsey voiced her opinion on the matter. “I think a few of y’all want to do the right thing,” she said. “But I think some of y’all are getting strong-armed by some others. I am asking you to do the right thing. Holmes County could be a great place but so many on this council have stopped growth from happening over the years, so it did not affect their small business. We have a police chief that is trying to do his job and he is asking you to help him. You need to decide if you are going to work for the people and for the betterment of your community. If not, then you need to step aside for someone that will.”
Owner of the Holiday Inn Express Vicky Clemmons spoke out in support of Chief Macon and questioned some activities of Vice-Mayor Larry Cook in his role as Assistant Fire Chief.
“The hotel business is not always a good place. Sometimes, bad things we don’t want to talk about happen,” she said. “We need a chief like this. He is a good man; he has come to all of the local businesses to introduce himself and to offer his help should we need it. How about the fire truck that pulled through the Holiday Inn Express parking lot to pick up his grandson? Who paid for that? I pay city taxes and we deserve to have a police department paid for by those taxes. I have lived here for 20 years. You make me want to leave. You guys have to stop the good ol’ boy system and let this man do his job.”
When the police department matter came up on the agenda, Councilman Larry Cook made a motion to contract police department operations with the sheriff’s office. Many in attendance expressed their displeasure with both the motion and Cook. Mayor Dr. Emily McCann called for order from the crowd so that everyone to hear the vote. “I know you all want to hear this vote,” she said. “Please give us the opportunity to speak.”
After a few moments of silence, McCann passed the gavel and seconded the motion. Council members Rick Crews, James Sellers, and Shelley Carroll voted no on the matter, leaving Cook and McCann as the two yes votes. The crowd erupted in applause as the motion died.
Councilman James Sellers expressed his concern about the police department being able to operate safely on the $635,000 budget.
“Chief, do you think you can run that department on that $635,000 budget?” asked Sellers. “It bothers me that we reduced the budget by nearly half a million dollars.”
Chief Macon advised he could run the department on that budget for the next year but would come back next year with a higher budget request.
Sellers requested the mayor and Macon get together and come up with a figure between the $635,000 and the $1.1 million that would also allow for the hiring of two more officers. Macon and McCann are expected to meet this week to figure out a budget to bring back to the council to vote on.
“I am good with the decision of the council,” said Macon. “I just wish we could have done more. I am happy that we are still here.”