SHOUTED DOWN

Feb. 16, 2013 @ 09:21 PM

After an emotional debate among the Indian Trail Town Council, the Union County Sheriff and angry residents, there will be no town police department.

The council agreed to meet after the town's contract renewal proposal was rebuffed by Sheriff Eddie Cathey. He responded to all council members by email, denouncing the council's claim of ownership over equipment and vehicles used by Union County Sheriff's deputies and the council's disregard for the Constitutional powers of the sheriff.

On Thursday, Mayor Michael Alvarez called the special meeting Saturday afternoon to talk about what the council should do next.

Friday, Councilman Christopher King talked to Cathey for more than an hour about the contract and public safety in general.

"It was a very positive conversation," King said Saturday. "When I hung up the phone, it was resolved. We would work with the sheriff and we would renew the contract with the sheriff's department."

A few phone calls to fellow council members later, King believed the Saturday meeting to be canceled. He had family obligations that called him to South Carolina.

"I can't imagine them taking a vote on this without me there," King said when he learned the meeting was still on.

Before the meeting began, Councilman David Cohn stood outside the Indian Trail Civic Building where a television news crew was interviewing him.

"I'm 99 9/10ths sure we'll be renewing the contract with the sheriff's department," Cohn said.

But when the meeting got underway, Councilwoman Darlene Luther moved that the town end all contract negotiations with UCSO and direct the town manager to begin forming a town police department. She said the town tried in good faith to initiate contract negotiations, but Cathey's scathing email which was also published by The Enquirer-Journal made it clear the town was wasting time.

"His response is a beat-up in the media of this ludicrous, incompetent, laughable, ridiculous inclusions in our contract," Luther said.

Order was called several times because members of the audience vocally disagreed with her statements. Most people held up signs that said "We support UCSO" and "Let them do their jobs."

Luther's opinion was echoed by Councilman Robert Allen. When audience members commented that a police department is not what the people want, Allen said that they did not represent the opinions of every Indian Trail resident.

"When there's an agenda item, the folks who are opposed to it are the ones motivated to come out about it," Allen said.

Cohn and Councilman David Waddell said they favored keeping the sheriff's contract. With two voting against two, it was left up to the mayor to break the tie.

"If there's a vote on this tonight, and it's two to two," Cohn said to Alvarez, "I fully expect you to vote for the sheriff's department because that's what you told me you would do."

But Alvarez did not.

"Some of you here may or may not like hearing what I have to say, but somebody has to say it, and it should have been said a long time ago," Alvarez said.

UCSO deputies provide great service and keep Indian Trail communities safe, he said. The agreement provides good security for a low price, he said.

But the sheriff's email was disrespectful of the town and the details of the contract strewn through the media without proper consideration. The debate over starting a police department raged long enough. Residents feel security will suffer if the USCO contract is not renewed. But the town should not bow to political intimidation, Alvarez said.

"Therefore as the leader of this town and for the reasons I have stated, I'm suggesting to the council not to fall for this tactic because they have done a true injustice to the people because it does not solve the problem," he said. "I believe it is time for Indian Trail to stand on its own two feet and explore the true facts to start its own police department."

Members of the audience stood, shouted "coward" and "liar"  and "this is not what you promised when you ran for office" and stormed out.

Cohn, usually quiet, grew angry.

"You are a liar, that's what you are," Cohn said. The audience applauded.

Cohn, Alvarez and Luther debated whether the council should vote with one member missing. The question was called several times. The crowd burst out with questions, comments, insults and pleas. Order was restored and broken repeatedly. Alvarez, his hands shaking, asked for a five minute recess. Cohn stared at the ceiling, appearing to hold back tears.

When they returned, Luther and Allen voted for the police department. Cohn, Waddell and Alvarez voted against.

Admitting defeat, Allen congratulated the sheriff.

"Well played," he said.

"It's not a game. It's our lives at stake," a woman in the audience said.