When the City of St Augustine Beach holds its commission meeting on Monday, October 1, Commissioner Undine Pawlowski has asked to be heard on “police department matters” as well as “St. Augustine’s performance evaluation” during what will likely become another heated discussion.
Earlier on Monday’s agenda, Mayor Gary Snodgrass has set aside time to discuss matters related to the replacement of Chief Richard Hedges; following his recent resignation, under fire. Chief Hedges was accused of all manner of misconduct by subordinate officers within the seventeen-person department — yet an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement cleared him of any wrongdoing.
A simultaneous internal investigation, headed by Chief David Messenger, was undertaken by the St Johns County Sheriff’s Office; looking into the conduct of the police officers whose names and signatures appeared on the Hedges complaint.
A panel has been named to assist the new chief in a review of existing officers that the mayor and vice-mayor would like to see cut.
Mayor Snodgrass has openly expressed his desire to reduce the size of the department; supplementing reductions in size and cost with officers available from the Sheriff’s Office. Vice Mayor Rich O’Brien wants $80,000 cut from the police budget in a restructuring plan that would eliminate positions; including the assistant chief.
Pawlowski, who is an attorney, and Commissioner Brud Helhowski, who operates a bar, object to plans to replace the officers they have come to know and are comfortable with.
When the matters come before the commission Monday night, the discussion will focus on topics including setting dates for special meetings to select semi-finalists for the chief position, holding a reception for them and interviewing them.
Another point to be addressed will be to establish in advance the number of commissioner votes required to finalize the selection.