The local Fraternal Order of Police wants a new public safety director.
The organization of more than 600 law enforcement personnel Wednesday announced it’s endorsing challenger Colin Martin in his bid to unseat incumbent Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, whose position as the city’s chief executive also makes her public safety director.
FOP President Randy Robertson said the endorsement follows a telephone poll of the chapter’s membership, but he did not cite specific numbers. “Hundreds and hundreds” of members were surveyed, he said, and he estimated the support for Martin at 70 percent or more.
The mayor Wednesday night said the FOP never asked her side, and made its endorsement solely with input from Martin’s campaign: “The FOP has not had a forum, interviews or even written questions.”
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Robertson got a laugh from those gathered at the FOP lodge on Heiferhorn Way when he told how FOP executive Jennifer Horton texted him the results of the survey, and the numbers looked so one-sided he had to call her to confirm them.
“I read the text, and then I called Jennifer on the phone and asked her to look at the text to make sure she had put the numbers right,” he recalled. “She laughed, used a profane word, and said yeah, she put the numbers right.”
Tomlinson noted Robertson is not just the head of the FOP, but the major in the Muscogee Sheriff’s Office responsible for its budget, which over the past six years has amassed a deficit of $9.5 million, enough to add 22 days of operation to the city’s reserve fund.
“Clearly that leadership wishes to have someone in office that doesn’t ask tough questions about $1.7 million firing ranges or $700 sleep studies,” the mayor said. Such funds could be used to provide longevity bonuses to veteran law enforcement officers, she added.
That the FOP never asked her to address the issues affecting its members puts the legitimacy of its endorsement in question, she said: “The truth is this isn’t about public safety. It’s about the budget.” Robertson said the FOP based its input on publicized forums and campaign material, and he was “saddened and disappointed” the mayor made a personal issue of his position with the sheriff’s office.
He is not in charge of the sheriff’s budget, he said: Two lieutenants handle that.
He said the firing range Tomlinson cited was an old Muscogee County Prison range updated with funds from the city’s local option sales tax devoted primarily to public safety, and the inmate sleep study was recommended by two doctors who told the sheriff jail inmates’ sleep apnea could be fatal.
As Martin took the stage Wednesday at the FOP lodge, he at first was too overwhelmed to speak.
Then he recalled attending an FOP political forum in 1996, and realizing how important the group’s endorsement could be.
“The FOP was considering who to endorse for a number of offices — mayor wasn’t one of them that year — and I knew it was serious,” he recalled. “And I said, ‘You know, if I ever run for office, and I ever get the FOP endorsement, that is something significant.’”
One of those present had brought a puppy into the lodge, and it got a laugh when Martin declared, “We know we have a crime problem in this city.” The dog immediately barked as if in agreement. “Amen!” exclaimed one of Martin’s supporters.
“We know citizens want to feel safe in their homes,” Martin continued. “They’ve told us that in Gallup polls, and now we know what the crime-fighters think.”
Martin pledged to treat officers with dignity and respect: “I will speak to you in public. I will speak to you in private.”
Robertson complained city leaders try to intimidate law enforcement officers into silence rather than address their complaints.