Residents criticize

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, June 25, 2008

By Staff
council’s decisions
Police department
is focus of remarks
Staff Writer
BELHAVEN — The public took advantage of the public-comment segment of the Town Council’s meeting Monday.
Talmidge Hamilton, a long-time town resident, made his opposition to the council’s handling of town affairs known by being quiet and just staring for about three minutes. On Tuesday, Hamilton, who retired from the Navy as a master chief petty officer, said in a brief interview that he put “the master chief stare on (the council).”
Hamilton said his silence was to mourn his beloved town. Hamilton said he has often voiced his opinions to the council, but he decided that just as much could be accomplished through silent protest.
Hamilton said his message is “that if you’re a citizen of Belhaven, silence will get as much action as opening your mouth.”
Hamilton was not alone in his criticism of the council. Ellen Allen, captain of Pungo District Hospital’s EMS station, focused her attention on the council’s handling of the Belhaven Police Department. She talked about the council’s firing of George Hayden, former Belhaven police chief, and Josh Hopkins, the department’s former lieutenant.
With the resignation of Lou Hellickson, who was the town’s last remaining police officer when he resigned June 17, Allen said she became concerned with the safety of the town’s residents.
Mayor Adam O’Neal responded, saying a police officer had been hired.
After the meeting, interim Town Manager Guinn Leverett said Joseph Smith, a former Belhaven police officer, had rejoined the force as its only full-time officer.
The council has been promoting the ideals of community-based policing since firing Hayden and Hopkins. Council members have said they are using that approach to policing as the backbone for reorganization of the department.
While the council’s search for a police chief continues, Harry Meredith, chief deputy with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, is acting as the town’s police chief.
Meredith said that although Belhaven does not have full-time police coverage, there is always a deputy assigned to the “northeast region of Beaufort County.”
Allen, who works in the emergency room at Pungo District Hospital, was not comforted by his words.
She accused Leverett of distributing misleading information.
Meredith said hiring a police officer is a laborious task.
Paperwork associated with hiring an officer can take from 30 says to 60 days to complete, according to Meredith.
O’Neal said he wants “the new police chief to hire officers.”
Councilman Steve Carawan spoke against Allen and Hamilton, accusing them of being counter-productive in regard to the police department.
Hamilton had a different take.