What’s next for Savannah-Chatham County police merger?

The Savannah City Council today adopted the last police merger agreement that passed the Chatham County Commission. That “framework” establishes a further process for evaluating costs and will require at least another vote next year to finalize the merger (which has been in progress for over a decade already).

Things to watch:

1. Will Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens rule in favor of Commission Chairman Al Scott’s veto of the decision last week by five commissioners to end merger talks and reestablish the old County force?

The crux of the issue is this: The commissioners ended talks after Dean Kicklighter made a simple motion, but the county code only allows a chairman’s veto for resolutions and ordinances. See p. 18 here. The county attorney seems quite certain that the chair can also veto motions, but I’ll be curious to see how it plays out.

Consider: if a chairman can veto any motion or any other action, then the chairman could effectively tie up all sorts of county business for a period of two weeks. Let’s say that the commission votes by simple motion to approve a rezoning request, but that request is approved along with several other items of business. If the chairman can veto a motion like that, then all the actions taken by that vote would be rescinded, and there would be a two week lag before any of that business could be reconsidered.

2. The police merger will eventually need five county commissioners in support of it. There will be an election in 2016 for county commission seats, so that could change the dynamic, but right now it looks like any candidate who favors continuation of the merger will face opposition from residents of the unincorporated county.

Even before that election, there could be key votes that would require a simple majority of commissioners. If the five who voted last week to end the merger remain firm, there is no way for Scott to overcome that opposition.

3. It’s still possible that the commissioners who oppose the merger could find another vote to overturn the veto (they need six), but that seems unlikely.

4. The bargaining power is now clearly on the county’s side, if city officials are truly desirous of retaining the merger. Mayor Jackson, City Manager Cutter, and the rest of the team have seemed only dimly aware of the political dynamics in play here, and they seemed to have no idea that a majority of county commissioners were on the verge of turning against them.

Now that they know that, they might do what they should have done many, many months ago: make a deal that preserves the merger even if they don’t think the residents of the unincorporated county are paying their fair share.