Columbia council will not ask sheriff Lott to run police department

From staff reportsMarch 12, 2014 

Lott

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

— Columbia City Council closed the door Wednesday on a city police department merger with the sheriff’s department.

In a 6-0 vote, council endorsed the city manager’s selection process for choosing the city’s eighth police chief in eight years.

The vote, with Mayor Steve Benjamin out of the country, followed a conciliatory speech by Councilman Cameron Runyan.

Runyan on Monday reignited the divisive issue of putting the police department under the control of Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

Runyan said that his commitment to improving public safety was an example of “my mouth getting ahead of my brain.”

He apologized to City Manager Teresa Wilson for referring to her as “a bureaucrat” during his Monday news conference.

Runyan called for a halt to the naming of the chief so that that council could decide whether to turn over operation of the nearly 400-officer department to the sheriff.

The first-term councilman said then that an investigative report of allegations of misconduct among the department’s leadership renewed his doubts about command of the police force.

But Runyan’s proposal immediately ran into opposition from a clear majority of council.

Most rejected the idea outright, along with Runyan’s timing, as the city manager was about to make her selection after a months-long process.

Wilson said she will chose from the two remaining finalists by early next week. Under Columbia’s form of government, the city manager hires and fires Columbia’s workforce.

The list of finalists was trimmed from five nominees a few weeks ago to two by Wednesday when the retired Spartanburg public safety director said he has withdrawn from consideration.

Wilson said after Wednesday’s meeting that she and the two finalists are meeting on Friday with the chiefs of Columbia-area police agencies.

Those invited to attend include Lott, State Law Enforcement Division chief Mark Keel, Lexington County Sheriff James Metts and campus chiefs from the University of South Carolina, Benedict College, Allen University and Columbia College.

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