Council defunds RWPD and Culp

RIDGEWAY – After failing on Aug. 9, to finalize a vote to defund its Police Department, the Ridgeway Town Council held a special meeting Saturday, Aug. 11, at 10 am to pass the vote.

Following executive session at the Aug. 9 meeting, Councilman Dan Martin moved to ‘implement a reduction in force by eliminating funding for the town’s police department personnel, non-personnel and capital expenditures effective Friday, Aug. 10, at 9:01 a.m.”

Mayor Heath Cookendorfer seconded the motion.

Before council could vote, however, Councilman Don Prioleau made what he called a substitute motion to call a town hall meeting before defunding the police department. Council, in its confusion, then stumbled into increasingly familiar territory – another parliamentary faux pas.

“I would call for a town hall meeting where the citizens of the town would be able to help and guide council which way we might proceed,” Prioleau said. “So I offer a substitute motion that would have a town hall meeting for deciding on the police department.”

A lengthy discussion then ensued on which motion to vote on first and whether or not to vote on the first (Martin’s) motion at all after the second motion failed 3-1.

At one point, a woman from the audience walked up to the council table, interrupted proceedings and addressed the mayor and council without identifying herself or asking permission to speak.

“I’m very concerned about something that happened while you all were in executive session,” the woman said as she laid a paper on the council table and pushed it toward the mayor and Prioleau. She then walked back to her seat to the bewilderment of council and the audience.

Then, without comment, Cookendorfer and Prioleau, returned to bantering over whether to vote on the first motion.

Finally, Cookendorfer warily accepted Prioleau’s parliamentary tact that the first motion actually won without a vote since the second motion failed.

Councilman Dan Martin objected to that reasoning, insisting that the first motion still needed a vote. Prioleau prevailed, however, and Cookendorfer announced that the first motion, to defund the police department, passed, 3-1 without a vote.

Martin then made a second motion to authorize the mayor to sign an agreement of understanding with the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department to provide law enforcement for Ridgeway.

“What we’re doing,” Martin said, “is hiring off-duty Fairfield County Sheriff’s deputies to come and patrol our town for however many hours we contract an officer to be here. We will have that officer here to protect the town, and he will not leave during the time he’s on duty,” Martin said.

“When the contracted officer is not on duty, we will still have the same round-the-clock service from the Sheriff’s department we’ve always had, just like when Chief Culp was not on duty. We still had 24-hour protection provided by the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department. Plus we’ll have a contracted officer five days a week here in town.

Councilman Rufus Jones added that Culp would receive three weeks’ pay plus pay for three weeks of vacation upon separation from the Town.

“It’s a bad day in Ridgeway!” former mayor Charlene Herring, a Culp supporter, shouted out immediately after council voted to adjourn the meeting. She continued to talk loudly as the audience dispersed, but what she said was not clear.

Armed with advice from the S.C. Municipal Association that the non-vote for the first motion, to defund the police department, was just that – a non-vote, Cookendorfer, on Friday, called a special meeting for Saturday, at which time council voted 3-1 to pass the motion to defund the police department, effectively immediately.

NOTE: Following the Aug. 9 meeting, The Voice obtained the handwritten note the unidentified woman left on the dias. Titled ‘Evidence of Collusion,’ it stated that Councilman Rufus Jones winked his eye at a person the woman said is well known to be obsessed with causing harm to the chief of police.

Asked about the wink, Jones said it was a common practice for him to smile and wink at people he knows.

“Everyone who knows me knows I do that,” Jones said.

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