This is a reprint of the remarks that MySocialJacksonville.com administrator Colby Huff made before the Village of South Jacksonville Board of Trustees at the regularly-scheduled meeting held on February 2, 2017.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board –
Like no doubt many other residents of our community, I was shocked to learn earlier this week of the decision by you, President Waltrip, to place our police chief, Joshua Hallock, on an unpaid administrative leave. As you all know, I am a big believer in transparency in government. I have stood at this podium many times and raised issues related to the subject. Tonight, however, I stand before you appalled that this information was leaked to the media by someone at Village Hall.
The only people who should have been aware of this situation, sir, were yourself, Josh Hallock, the Village Attorney, the person or persons who are responsible for this even being a complaint against Chief Hallock, and your fellow Trustees. In no way, shape, or form should this matter have reached WLDS – or myself – before the investigation had been concluded and there was an appropriate announcement to be made.
To the regard that the Trustees should have been brought up to speed, the fact that – as best as I can tell – most of them weren’t fully informed of what was going on points to, once again, a severe lack of transparency and communication with the members of the Board. This is not an acceptable way to govern.
President Waltrip, you have said throughout your term at the helm of our Village Government that you wanted to be transparent, open, and fair. I will not openly invoke the name of your predecessor, but I will say that, as the months have gone on, you appear to be doing a lot of things the same way that they did, with regard to communication with the members of this Board of Trustees. When you feel it’s convenient to tell the Trustees what is happening, you do… but when you don’t think it’s convenient or perhaps you’re not telling them, “for their own good”, you slink through the shadows and do things without their knowledge.
Why is it that I, as a citizen watchdog, was able to piece together the basic story about what happened, as a result of a leak from within your Administration, and present it to certain Trustees… BEFORE they knew the story themselves? Why would you choose to keep such important information from people who have been elected – or, in the case of Trustee Stewart, appointed by YOU – to be leaders of this community?
President Waltrip, with all due respect, you have three months remaining in your term. On behalf of concerned citizens of this community, I beg you to please improve the transparency level of your administration. Certain things, such as personnel matters, shouldn’t be made known to the public until a certain time. That is something with which we can all agree, but there are other items that the public – the people who have elected you and whose tax dollars pay for most of the operation of this Village – have every right to know about.
Please stop giving citizen watchdogs a reason to have to stand here in front of this body and – in deference to the young people in attendance tonight, I will not directly quote one of your colleagues, but, instead paraphrase – “complain about things.” Send your administration out on a high note, as a model for your successor, whether that happens to be Harry Jennings or Dani Glascock, to build upon for the next four years.
There are other alleged circumstances tied into this fiasco that I will not directly address until they are proven correct by indisputable evidence or false by the same. I will say, however, that should those circumstances be proven correct, I hope that the same scrutiny and actions that have been placed upon Chief Hallock are enforced upon individuals who may warrant them.
As to the suspension itself… based on information that I have been able to gather from both on and off the record conversations, this decision amounts to little more than a political witch hunt and smear campaign being waged against a man who I know to be incredibly honest and a good cop.
It is my understanding that Chief Hallock received explicit written notification from our Village Attorney that this training and its circumstances was allowable under Village policies. It is my understanding that, now, as a result of that apparent error by Attorney Cross that we – as community residents – will now have to pay an additional attorney at Brown, Hay, and Stephens to “investigate” the situation. This is further proof that, as a good friend of mine put it to me this morning, “political witch hunts aren’t cheap.” It is my understanding that the police training session in which Chief Hallock and another employee, whom I understand we will hear about in Item #5 of the Mayor’s Report, participated in – Josh, not in his official capacity as police chief, and that employee, OFF the clock – had been previously held in this Village on at least two other occasions.
While those previous occasions did occur under your predecessor and you may have varying opinions from that person as to whether such training and/or participation in that training should happen in the Village of South Jacksonville or have participation by Village employees, you must recognize the precedent that was established. Chief Hallock had every reason to believe that the training – held in countless municipalities statewide over the course of any given year – was valid for the continuing education of our police officers and supported by the Administration.
If that was NOT the case, I believe that the extent of your consequences for Chief Hallock should be a formal statement that you did not approve of such training and/or participation and would have preferred to be notified properly and had the opportunity to put a stop to it… and let that be the end of it.
Our community has gone through three changes at the top of the police department since April 2nd of 2015 – I urge you not to make it four by taking any additional action against Chief Josh Hallock.