Former Warwick police chief David Morris, right, pleads his case during a dismissal hearing before the Warwick City Council Thursday evening. The Council voted 3-2 to uphold Mayor Juanita Kinchen's decision to terminate Morris. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)
WARWICK — The Warwick city council voted 3-2 Thursday evening to uphold Mayor Juanita Kinchen’s decision to fire police chief David Morris, with Kinchen casting the deciding vote. The vote was taken after Morris’ termination hearing before the Council.
Morris had directed the police department for the Worth County community that is often labeled as one of Southwest Georgia’s most aggressive towns in terms of speed limit enforcement. A check of records showed that Warwick collected more than $1.25 million in traffic fines during the past fiscal year.
Information obtained Thursday from the Warwick city clerk’s office showed that the city of 454 people collected $1,253,718 in fines during FY 2013-14. By comparison, the City of Albany collected just more than $1.9 million in fines, Camilla collected $356,065 and Leesburg collected $148,468.
Most of those tickets were issued for violations on the short stretch of Georgia Highway 300 that runs through the city of Warwick.
Kinchen fired Morris via a letter of dismissal last week, citing negligence, inefficiency, unfitness to perform his duties as chief, insubordination, misconduct and other causes. The mayor sent Morris a letter listed five specific reasons for his dismissal:
— Placing quotas on the number of tickets an officer is required to issue.
— Consistently disciplining and terminating members of the police department in a manner not in conformance with the personnel policies and procedures adopted by the City Council.
— Making purchases and expenditures of public dollars inconsistent with the ordinances and procedures adopted by the Mayor and City Council.
— Operating the Warwick Police Department in a manner inconsistent with the intent of the Warwick City Council requiring new leadership to carry the Department in a direction consistent with the wishes of the Mayor and City Council.
— Failure to have travel pre-approved as required by the City Code of the City of Warwick.
Speaking to the board, Morris denied all five allegations against him saying, “I have always followed board protocol." Morris also produced four of his officers as witnesses to rebut the assigning of ticket quota allegations. All four officers denied that Morris had instructed them to issue 1o tickets per shift.
“There has never been a quota placed on us since I got here in May,” Officer David Smith said. “All (Morris) has ever told us in regard to tickets was to aggressively enforce the law.”
Councilwomen Jacqueline Nelson cast one of the two votes against Morris’ firing.
“We as a city council gave (Morris) the power to do a lot of the things in the letter,” Nelson said. “I voted against the firing because I think we should have been notified and given him a chance to correct the problems.”
As for Kinchen, she said she has no ill will toward Morris.
“For quite a while I felt something in the department wasn’t right,” Kinchen said. “I don’t have anything against him but I have to follow city ordinances. I was led by my heart.”
The Morris firing is similar to when his predecessor, Raymond Bedal, was dismissed in December of 2011 after it was discovered his department was bringing in excess of $100,000 per month in traffic fines.
Tim Murphy, who was named interim chief last week, is no longer with the department. Maj. Yvette Miller will run the department until a new police chief is named.