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June 22 – COMMENTARY: Rev. Lee hired to head ‘End Gun Violence’ program, but was it over objections of Chief Lumpkin and the City’s HR Dept?

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

June 22, 2017 – With no explanation to City Council members, a decision was made last month to move the Project Manager of the City’s important End Gun Violence program away from the direct management of Police Chief Jack Lumpkin and under the District Attorney, Meg Heap. The End Gun Violence Program (EGV) is the highly touted program aimed at curbing violent crime in Savannah.

An innocuous MOU was put on the Council’s agenda back May 11, but it apparently slipped by most of the Aldermen interviewed, who are just now learning that the move took place. 

And they have a lot of questions. 

Look for at least one Alderman to raise a ruckus about the alleged role and actions of Mayor Eddie DeLoach in the move, and the complicated back story of a threatened lawsuit.

The SBJ has learned that the reason for the move is tied to DeLoach;s allegedly interfering in the process of hiring a new Project Manager; multiple sources confirm. Allegedly, DeLoach jumped the gun and offered the job to Rev. George P. Lee, III, pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church in Savannah, without authorization, and before his background was vetted by the Savannah-Chatham police's human resources process.  

When Lumpkin's team that handles the vetting of all potential employees at SCMPD began to process Rev. Lee’s application, something in his background made them unable or unwilling to hire him.  Sources also state that Chief Lumpkin was opposed to hiring Lee.  Whether that was due to the alleged HR issue, or other matters, is not known. Two sources state that issues in his background were in violation of the City's hiring practices for a manager that would need to drive a City-owned vehicle. 

Contacted today, and asked if he had opposed hiring Rev. Lee, Chief Lumpkin’s spokesperson said that the Chief stated that questions about Lee’s HR questions “should be referred to the DA’s office, who hired him.”  It was a non-answer, answer.

The Rev. Lee could not be reached to ask what was in his background that was in violation of the City’s policies relative to driving city-owned vehicles.  

So, why the decision to move the position to the DA’s Office?  According to sources, Lee let it be known that he was going to hire an attorney and sue the City if he wasn’t hired, taking the position that the Mayor’s statement to him “was a contract,” and he had given up a lucrative State job. 

However, there is another twist to the story that needs vetting. The SBJ has learned that the Rev. Lee’s State job was part of a three-year Federal grant to the State of Georgia for Governor Deal’s Prisoner Re-entry Program, launched in 2014 that ends June 30 at the end of the State’s fiscal year.

The SBJ has filed a request with the State on whether Rev. Lee’s position with the Re-Entry Program was set to end this year, anyway.  And, if we reach Rev. Lee, we’ll ask more about his position, and whether he was a State employed or a State contractor.  One part of the Federal grant included testing religious intervention with prisoners getting out of jail, the work that Rev. Lee was involved in.   

The primary concern of multiple Aldermen  I've spoken with this week is that this is another incident – a constant drumbeat complaint – that Mayor DeLoach continues to make decisions on his own, and to order the City Manager to do his bidding, without bringing the topics to the Council for at least the courtesy of a discussion.      

Look for Alderman Tony Thomas, known for years as a watchdog about police issues and the department's practices and efforts to fight crime, to dig for more information on how this important job was moved out from under Chief Lumpkin.

In an interview today, Thomas states that he “is deeply concerned about what he has learned so far, after talking with the City Manager."  And he added, "It is an important job, with a salary and benefits that totals $98,280."  

Thomas states that he has launched an investigation into the matter, and believes it’s another abuse of the Mayor’s actual powers under the City’s Charter.  He also alleges that DeLoach wanted Rev. Lee to get the job for political reasons. 

The U.S. Attorney, District Attorney Meg Heap, Mayor DeLoach and Police Chief Jack Lumpkin were serving on a committee to interview applicants to replace Dr. Bryant, the prior Project Manager for the EGV program.   DeLoach was reportedly removed from the search committee, replaced by the City Manager, after he overstepped and offered the job to Lee.  “Then they had to cover his ass,” when Lee threatening to sue, states Thomas.

Chatham County Commissioner Dean Kicklighter states that he wasn’t aware of the change; nor was Brian Foster, both interviewed Wednesday. But, ”it wouldn’t be the first time we were not informed,” Foster commented.   

The End Gun Violence program, researched and launched under the Edna Jackson administration, has been touted as a major initiative of the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Dept. and Chief Jack Lumpkin, aimed at reducing violent crime in the city. The core of the program is direct contact between the police and repeat-offending criminals, those just coming out of jail, and their ‘known associates.’   The SCMPD holds mandatory sessions for known criminals, their families and associates to offer them assistance in locating jobs and gaining training skills, but also makes clear that they are being watched.  Chief Lumpkin has explained the program in a number of public settings.  SCMPD which makes clear that if criminals do ‘not straighten out,’ the City will ‘throw the book at them’ if they go back to court.  That takes the cooperation of the DA’s office, of course. 

Sources on the City Council state that both Mayor DeLoach and City Manager Rob Hernandez asked the Chief to hire Rev. Lee, but he declined. To solve the problem, and avoid a lawsuit and public embarrassment for multiple people, the program manager position was moved under the District Attorney’s Office, led by DA Meg Heap.

The MOU that was actually on the City Council’s Agenda back on May 11, but it had an innocuous title and slipped past most of the Aldermen and County Commissioners. It states that one reason for the change was so that any legal actions complied with Georgia laws. 

However, the Rev. Lee’s resume does not seem to include any legal background.  There is also the issue that Atty. Ian Heap, Meg Heap's husband, is also the attorney for Rev. Lee's church's private school, a program now undergoing a multi-million dollar expansion, making that relationship very, very "close."  Atty. Ian Heap is also an Asst. District Attorney.  

The DA’s office and budget comes under the Chatham County Commissioners. According to DA Heap’s spokesperson Kristen Fulford, Rev. Lee has begun his job, which is a full-time position, and he is expected to be at work daily.  He has an office with the Savannah Impact Program at an SCMPD police facility.

To be fair, it's important to note that the D.A.'s Office, which handles its own HR processes including background checks, apparently had no problem with hiring Rev. Lee. Even though employees of the D.A's office are County employees, the Chatham County HR Dept. does not vet potential hires. 

So, we're left with one more incident of smoke and rumors swirling around Savannah City government, and endless allegations that the Mayor is overstepping his authority. In his defense, he made be have goals for the City, and may be frustrated with the slow pace that change is accomplished, which feels a little "Trumpish." 

We need to get a better understanding of this entire episode, and the SBJ has filed several Open Records requests. If we find out more facts, we'll report them.   

We look for Rob Hernandez to show some backbone if pressured by the Mayor, backbone it appears is possessed by Chief Lumpkin when faced by the Mayor’s demands.  

Editor’s Note:  Below is background on Chief Lumpkin’s Oct, 23, 2016 report to the City Council on the EVG program, and details on the MOU between the City and County. An attempt to gain in interview with Mayor DeLoach today was unsuccessful. 

                                                                  * * * * *

The Success of the End Gun Violence Program

In October, the Chief summarized the success of the program in 2016, and the City Council voted to approve a one-year contract extension with the National Network of Safe Communities to continue the SCMPD’s End Gun Violence: Step Forward initiative to reduce gang/group related gun violence.

“I think the contract with the National Network of Safe Communities should be extended for another year because the concept and process works,” said Chief of Police Lumpkin at that session. 

And, he reported that since the beginning of 2016, more than 100 gang members have been arrested and convicted in Savannah and Chatham County due to the End Gun Violence initiative and other federal task force operations.

“End Gun Violence is not a program with a start and end date. This is a change in the mindset and the way we police. It takes time to change a culture and filter this down to each individual officer. This requires us to change our practice, customs and processes – it is not a turn-key,” Chief Lumpkin explained to the Council.

“During the past two years the SCMPD has been bolstering the number of officers and providing training and development for officers to focus on intelligence led policing, focusing in on the most violent criminals,” he added. 

The National Network for Safe Communities has been helping other law enforcement agencies successfully use this model for more than 20 years in more than 60 cities across the country. They have access to a growing body of scholarly evidence, including systematic reviews and city-level studies which helps the SCMPD use the most promising approach to be effective in addressing serious group and gang gun violence.

Part one crimes in the SCMPD’s jurisdiction have been declining since May 2016. As of October 23, 2016 the number of aggravated assaults with a firearm (shootings) combined with homicides was lower than in 2015.

“We are not lowering crime as fast I would like, or anyone of us would like, but we are making progress and moving in the right direction,” said Chief Lumpkin stated on Oct. 23, 2016.

City Council voted unanimously to approve the contract renewal.

The Project Manager Position and Expectations

According to a spokesperson for DA Heap, Rev. Lee has an office at the SIPP office of the Savannah-Chatham Police Dept., a full-time position, and is expected to be on the job full-time.

He will not be issued a County vehicle, according to Kristen Fulford, PIO for DA Heap. 

The MOU outlines that SCMPD will retain exclusive coordination authority and shall manage all law enforcement aspects of the End Gun Violence (EGV) program.

The County will create one position within the District Attorney's Office for the End Gun Violence program. “This position will be in charge of day-to-day coordination and oversight of all non-law enforcement aspects of the program,” and   will:

-  Maintain relationships with SCMPD, area law enforcement agencies, social service providers, neighborhoods and citizens in order to exchange information and facilitate cooperative efforts

-  Ensure the timely delivery of all required reporting data and helping to develop social network analysis.

-  Gather and disseminate information and correspondence throughout and among the City/SCMPD organization, partners, stakeholders, service providers, community leaders and other agencies.

-  Establish and maintain information management systems to collect analyze and evaluate non-law enforcement data.

-  Provide weekly and monthly reports based on crime statistics.

-  Make recommendations to improve the productivity of the project.

-  Maintain current and accurate data and information on groups within the City and Chatham County.

-  Coordinate, plan and attend meetings with local law enforcement, social service agencies and community/neighborhood representatives, including facilitating group call-ins. 

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