By SHARRON HALEY
Special to The Sumter Item
MANNING - The City of Manning is searching for a new police chief.
The announcement was made on Jan. 30 that Manning was advertising for a permanent police chief, Manning Mayor Julia Nelson said …
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The announcement was made on Jan. 30 that Manning was advertising for a permanent police chief, Manning Mayor Julia Nelson said this week.
"The deadline for submission of applications is Feb. 15, 2019," Nelson said. "Once the suitable candidates are identified, we plan to start the screening and interview process shortly thereof. An announcement will be made of council's final decision."
Nelson said that the city's administrator, Scott Tanner, has been "dealing with the day-to-day operations of the Public Safety Department with communications to the Public Safety Committee. It is anticipated that an ordinance will be introduced in the near future to return the Public Safety Department under the administrator fully."
Nelson said that in order to officially return the PSD under the purview of the city administrator would require the passage of a new ordinance. For the new ordinance to become official, it would need the approval of two readings.
According to the city's ad for the position of police chief, city officials are looking for a law enforcement professional with 10 to 15 years of experience in law enforcement at management level or any equivalent combination of training and experience that provides the required knowledge, skills and abilities. The applicant must have strong desire to enhance community policing by initiating programs for citizen outreach and public engagement. The job duties of the police chief are listed as "plans, directs, manages and coordinates all police department operations pertaining to the enforcement of federal, state and local laws; works under stressful, high-risk conditions and performs specialized law enforcement duties; and works under limited supervision of the administrator."
The salary for the new police chief will be commensurate with experience.
Manning has been under the leadership of interim Police Chief Keith Grice since mid-July 2018 when city officials fired former Manning Police Chief Blair Shaffer in what officials deemed at the time was "in the best interests of the city." In the announcement, Nelson wrote that the safety of "our residents, guests and community is of utmost importance."
Shaffer's employee file obtained at the time by The Sumter Item through a FOIA request was pristine, listing no reprimands or inappropriate behavior through his more than 25 years of employment with the city police department.
Shaffer battled back, calling his firing a personal retaliation by Nelson and an effort by city officials to stop him from following state law.
Shaffer fought his termination by asking for a hearing before the city's Grievance Committee. During the hearing, Tanner listed several reasons for Shaffer's termination, including "yelling and speaking in harsh tones" to city officials; raising his voice to a judge; failing to follow city policies in promoting officers in his department; and asking police officers to sign a letter affirming that they understood the police department's "chain of command," a letter that Tanner said could raise "possible First Amendment" issues.
During his appearance before the Grievance Committee, Shaffer told the committee that his firing was "retaliation by the mayor against me" for the way he handled disciplinary action against officers in his department. He said he met with the PSC in April concerning an officer; however, the concerns "did not warrant action against the officers." Shaffer also told committee members that he told the PSC about problems he was having with another officer that involved the officer's dishonesty, insubordination to supervisors, false statements, access to video using another officer's password and lying to the police chief about the matter. Shaffer said that while he wanted to terminate the officer, Tanner did not agree with his assessment, and he was not allowed to terminate the officer that he thought "clearly violated policy."
Shaffer also told the committee that problems between him and city officials began as early as May and involved a traffic stop that Nelson asked him to look into. Shaffer told the committee he had questions about the alleged validity of a letter that Nelson presented to him from a person with knowledge about the traffic stop. Shaffer said that when he began looking into the validity of the letter that Nelson told him to "stand down."
Following the hearing, the committee voted to reinstate Shaffer; however, when council met to review the committee's recommendations, council voted to uphold Shaffer's termination. Following council's decision, Shaffer said he was going to take some time before deciding to take the matter before the courts.
Less than one week later on Aug. 10, Manning City Council voted unanimously to "waive attorney-client privilege" in granting a request from an outside agency that was seeking information on a "former or current" employee. Council members did not name the person or department involved in the investigation. Information regarding a recent investigation into the city's police department was mentioned on Aug. 2 when Shaffer appeared before the city's Grievance Committee asking for his old job back.
Shaffer referenced a recent investigation into his former department by the city's attorneys. He told the members of the committee that while his department had been investigated by the attorneys that he did not know their findings even though he had requested the results of their investigation.
On Jan. 7, Shaffer was arrested by FBI agents. That afternoon, Shaffer appeared in federal court in Charleston, where he pleaded not guilty to multiple federal charges including money laundering, theft of federal funds and providing false statements. Shaffer was released on bond that same day.
According to the federal indictment against Shaffer, he was charged with taking more than $75,000 in public money between September and November 2015.
A preliminary hearing was held following his arraignment, and the federal judge granted Shaffer's attorney a continuance in the case. No decision has been made as to when the case will appear in court.
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