City council’s Appropriations Committee turned into a fiery storm of criticism on Mon., Nov. 18th when Macon Police Chief, Mike Burns, presented a line of expenditures of confiscated funds.
Burns informed the committee of the spending of $18,000 in confiscated funds over a two-year period. In accordance with state law, Burns can use the money how he pleases as long as it does not include salaries or bonuses as well as projects already budgeted by the city.
What he spent the money on is what is causing many to be so annoyed.
$7,500 of the money was spent on travel for Burns and four of his colleagues to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, held in Chicago, IL, from Oct. 22-26. The city had previously dropped the conference from its budget. The remaining $10,500 was spent on equipment.
The specifics of what exactly the money was spent on during the trip are allegedly on record. After several attempts by the newspaper to contact city hall including a trip to the policefinancial department, no officials at city hall would release the requested information. One department claimed the documents were still under review and said they could not produce such a record at this time; another department said to try yet another department. The city has not yet responded to the newspaper’s request for the records filed under Georgia’s Freedom of Information Act.
Burns and Assistant City Attorney Judd Drake pointed to state law to defend the use of the funds, which was broad in claiming the use of the money can be decided by city’s top law enforcement official.
Though it is not required, Burns claimed he routinely informs Mayor Robert Reichert of his spending intentions and receives the Mayor’s approval.
Regardless, members of council, were critical. Council President James Timley was the most vocal claiming if the trip was so important the Chief should have included it in his budget.
“The city attorney read the state law, and (Timley) disagrees with it,” Burns said when he left the meeting, as reported by the Macon Telegraph. “We’re taking different courses than what is in the city budget. We used confiscated funds to do the things we can’t get the city to pay for. I don’t know why Councilman Timley chooses to disagree with state law. It’s been in effect for years. I don’t know why it’s such a big problem.”
The run down continued at a council meeting the following day when Councilwoman Elaine Lucas scolded the use of the funds. Lucas claimed Drake did not read the entire law at council the previous evening. She brought council’s attention to a section that says the local governing authority, which includes the mayor and council, can use remaining confiscated funds for any law enforcement purpose, such as creating programs for substance abuse, helping crime victims and representing indigent people in criminal cases.
“One section gives a list of suggested, possible uses,” Lucas said Tuesday night to the Telegraph. “Nowhere in that list is something for travel.”
City Attorney Martha Welsh said after Tuesday’s meeting that conflicting statements of the law required a further look into the issue.
Burns appeared on two morning news programs that Tuesday and criticized Lucas and Timley.
Macon.com asked its readers if Macon Police should use confiscated funds to attend law enforcement conferences? Of the 234 who responded to the survey, 86% agreed that law enforcement should use the money, as it is better than taxpayers footing the bill. The remaining disagreed, citing it was not fair to other departments.