I seldom have trouble sleeping. Friday night, 9 March 2012, was an exception to that rule. Since my golf game is improving, I got home that day in time to watch the 5:00 pm news on television. There it was, Dale Iman, Fayetteville City Manager, had resigned under pressure from Fayetteville City Council. This was a troubling occurrence for me. I went to bed at midnight, but only slept for half an hour. I got up and worked at my desk until 5:30 am. The reason for my sleeplessness is that I love Fayetteville, but am convinced that this is a city in crisis and that state of crisis is worsening dramatically. It seems to me the reportedly forced resignation of Iman is questionable at best and will add to the City’s already troubled condition. That is, high racial tension, seeming single-minded attention to the consent search issue to the exclusion of other high priorities, and a general atmosphere of confrontation without resolution of the consent search issue.
Walk with me through my thinking that leads me to view this forced resignation as “questionable at best.” Consider what media outlets are giving as possible reasons for Council pressuring Iman to resign. Be reminded the driving factor that led to this resignation is that over a year ago Troy Williams noted that roughly three times as many black motorists were being stopped and searched by Fayetteville police as were white motorists. Against that backdrop, Iman’s objection to a moratorium stopping consent searches for 120 days is seen as one reason for his resignation under pressure. Chief Tom Bergamine joined Iman in opposing the moratorium. Council’s stated intent was to allow for outside consultants to conduct a review to determine whether there is racial profiling by the department. Soon after the moratorium was in place, a judge granted an injunction temporarily halting the moratorium until another hearing could be conducted. The injunction was sought by the Southern States Police Benevolent Association and a group of retired and active officers. Their argument was that Council did not have authority to implement the moratorium. Seems Iman and Bergamine gave good advice on this issue. Did this matter justify a forced resignation?
Beyond the legal consideration regarding the moratorium, the police department was taking actions intended to provide hard evidence that could substantiate whether there was racial profiling by officers. These actions included equipping all patrol cars with cameras and recording devices to provide clear accounts of what happens during stops. The moratorium prohibiting consent searches made it impossible to gather the hard evidence that might have assisted the consultants in satisfying their mandate regarding racial profiling. This inability to collect hard data adds to the validity of the moratorium objection raised by Iman and Bergamine. Forced resignation justified?
According to an article in the 10 March 2012 Observer by Andrew Barksdale headlined “Iman to step down April 1,” another reason given for the pressured resignation was that Iman placed outgoing Chief Tom Bergamine on the panel he assembled to advise him on selection of the next chief of police. It is my understanding that the city manager has authority to hire the chief of police and is responsible to Council for the actions of that chief. That being the case, why should Council have input as to who is appointed to a panel that is to advise the manager in this matter? As was the case when Chief Bergamine was under fire from Council, the manager was called to account for what was perceived by Council to be unacceptable actions by Bergamine. Not only was he called to account by Council, but also by citizens who were arguing that there was racial profiling. Simply put, if the buck regarding the chief is going to land on Iman’s desk, it seems to me he should be allowed to choose his advisors. Otherwise, it would be like me calling a heating and air technician to repair a heating unit, telling him which parts to install, but then holding the technician responsible when the unit does not work. Add to this the fact that Bergamine has been with the Fayetteville Police Department for 34 years and nobody can deny that he has been an effective chief of police. Forced resignation justified?
Myron Pitts, an Observer newspaper columnist, in a 6 February 2012 column wrote concerning Chief Bergamine being on the advisory group, “I’m comfortable with him there, however, since he understands police operations and has decades of expertise.” On the other hand, Pitts says, “Iman’s committee does not include a single person who raised the issue of consent searches. This seems to fit the manager’s dismissive pattern toward these folks’ input, and that attitude is partly how we got to this point.” As a citizen, I, Karl Merritt, realize a police chief must address an extremely wide range of issues, policies, relationships, policing strategies, and so forth. Consent searches/Driving While Black (DWB) is in the mix. However, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if proponents of the issue had been on the advisory panel, consent searches/DWB would have become the central topic to the exclusion of all others. If anybody doubts the accuracy of that statement, look at what has happened in this City over the last 15 plus months. I find it difficult to believe that Iman and Bergamine have had time to do much aside from address the consent search issue. Further, Iman put in place mechanisms such as a survey that allowed for citizen input. There were also other meetings and interviews where input from persons who raised the consent search or DWB issue was possible. There are times when mission accomplishment is so critical that calming all opposition is not an option. In my estimation, this was one of those times. Forced resignation justified?
Iman and Bergamine had also opposed having officers use written consent forms when requesting permission to conduct a search. Some time ago, Council supported their position. However, after the moratorium was temporarily lifted and consent searches were authorized, Iman restarted these searches and instituted use of a written form, but did so without consulting City Council. Reportedly, he contended it was an operational decision within the scope of his position. Iman’s explanation makes sense to me. Was it smart politically? Obviously not. Forced resignation justified?
Another point for consideration regarding Iman’s implementation of the written consent search form came on 12 March when the National Organization of Black Police Executives (NOBLE), the consultants hired by Council, reported their findings and recommendations. One of the primary recommendations was for the Police Department to implement use of a written consent search form. They went on to acknowledge that such a form was now in use and praised the design of that form. Iman acted in accordance with this recommendation even before the NOBLE report was made to Council. Forced resignation justified?
I watched NOBLE’s report to Council on television and came away thinking Fayetteville has a fine police department that recognizes the statistics regarding stops and searches of black motorists require attention and the matter is being addressed. I will say more about the NOBLE report in a future e-newsletter.
One other note of interest. Andrew Barksdale writes in a 14 March Observer article that the forced resignation of Dale Iman might cost the City of Fayetteville as much as $250,000.00 in a lump-sum payment. I cannot help but wonder to what extent this cost was considered in the forced resignation decision.
Well, I am sleeping again, but given the thoughts and concerns I have shared here, sleeping is a tremendous challenge these days because I love Fayetteville and I am concerned that this forced resignation of the city manager will deepen an already deep crisis in this City.
A final thought for now: Like Ray Donovan who was President Reagan’s Labor Secretary said after being found not guilty of corruption charges, Dale Iman and Tom Bergamine must be asking themselves, “Where do I go to get my reputation back?”