Hot issues discussed at Columbus City Council meeting

Hot issues discussed at Columbus City Council meeting

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM)

Claims of law enforcement brutality were some of the main concerns community members voiced Tuesday at the Columbus City Council meeting.

"We have no permanent friends, we have no permanent enemies, we have permanent interests, and the permanent interest is making sure the citizens of Muscogee County are not abused by law enforcement," said Columbus NAACP President Tonza Thomas.

Thomas exchanged friendly words with Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr, but despite their apparent friendship on and off the job, Thomas is still calling for the arrest of two deputies involved in a Muscogee County Jail brawl from two years ago, which is at the center of the debate.

Thomas addressed city council members looking for further support, but Columbus council members ultimately said it's an issue that needs to be handled through the Sheriff's department.

"We cannot control the jail, we have control over the budgeting function for the entire city including the office of the Sheriff, but we can not, once budgeted, tell them how to run their department in office and we respect that daily," said Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

"The Mayor does have some influence on things that go on in this city, that's why she's the Mayor," said Thomas.

Mayor Tomlinson encouraged Thomas to evaluate all the things that committee members can do to improve jail practices.

"It's to be proactive, to recommend new training policies for public safety, to recommend new resources, like body cameras for instance," Tomlinson said. 

Sheriff Darr told WTVM that he has an open door policy and hopes Thomas stops by to discuss the situation more. Both deputies involved in that brawl in jail have faced disciplinary action since the incident.

Mayor Tomlinson says the Department of Justice inspected the Muscogee County Jail just last week to make sure all policies and procedures are up to standard.

Another major talker at the meeting was a new Georgia law referred to as "Ban the Box." Council members discussed how their current policy need to be specifically changed to fit new state law.

Earlier this year, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the law into effect, banning job applicants from being forced to initially reveal their criminal record on an application.

Council members say the city of Columbus' current ordinance will not allow them to hire an applicant with felony convictions. It's something they will try to change in the coming weeks.

"Now we will have this process where you will actually go through a subsitive evaluation as to your qualifications and readiness for the job, and if you make that cut, we can have a discussion with you about the background and what journey your life has taken," said Tomlinson.

Tomlinson says these changes in hiring policy will not mean that all people with felony convictions will get hired, simply that the hiring policy will shift to fit the "Ban the Box" policy.

Councilman Jerry "Pops" Barnes spoke out saying he's had to "check the box" before and is hopeful for these changes, saying it's a huge step for the city's government.

While the meeting did contain heated topics, it also kicked off with some good news for one local veteran. The Columbus City Council approved Sergeant Daniel King to fill the position of Deputy Warden of Administration. The position oversees care and treatment at the prison as well as inspection of security issues.

Sergeant King has worked at the prison for 18 years as a correctional officer, counselor, firearm instructor among other jobs after retiring from the military. The position will also need to be approved by the Georgia Board of Corrections.

Copyright WTVM 2015. All rights reserved.