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Public-Safety Proposal Splits Council

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Richmond had a public safety director until 1992 when then-city manager Robert Bobb axed the job. What is different in El-Amin's pitch is that the director would be accountable to City Council rather than to the city manager.

Why? "So we don't create another level of bureaucracy within the administration," El-Amin says.

But Councilman Manoli Loupassi insists this is precisely what hiring a public safety director would do. It would be "a complete waste of time and money," he says, and "add an extra layer of bureaucracy."

Then there's Councilman Bill Johnson, who says he "floated the idea originally." He claims Loupassi's argument is flawed and agrees with El-Amin: "It takes away a layer of bureaucracy by giving police a direct line to council," he says.

Apparently council members aren't always clear on what constitutes a "level of bureaucracy."

El-Amin says a public safety director would "give police a full-time supervisor who is in touch with council and would be in charge of police and fire with no other functions or duties."

El-Amin has been vocal in his criticism of some recent police actions and of the search for a new police chief. A public safety director could focus solely on oversight, he says, and cites Miami as a city where this has worked.

Loupassi, chairman of the city's public-safety commission, says this is baloney. "We are a part-time city council — we are not good at managing people," he says.

"What bothers me is that [El-Amin] is bringing this up at the exact time that we're trying to hire a police chief," Loupassi continues. "It sends a negative message to the police department, and it could adversely affect our ability to get the best police chief in the country that we can."

Johnson, though, argues that this is the perfect time to discuss the idea. "Our police are a 700-man paramilitary force," he says. The most important functions of municipal government are education and public safety, he says, and "City Council is in charge of neither."

Johnson has bigger plans. He says Richmonders should "kick around dialogue" about everything from appointing a secretary of education to four-year terms for council members to shifting to a mayor-at-large form of government. "Business as usual is no longer acceptable," he says.

— Brandon Walters

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