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Passage of Senate Bill 9 Ends Decades of Unfair Disciplinary Practices

 

by: John Midgette, Executive Director

North Carolina Police Benevolent Association

 

 

Political efforts by North Carolina Division’s Winston-Salem Triad Chapter to reform the unfair and sometimes unlawful practices of the city of Winston-Salem police disciplinary policies and practices, finally came to fruition on August 16, 2023, when Senate Bill 9 passed into law.

 

Since the early 1990’s PBA discovered that WSPD had one of the most egregious and arbitrary discipline systems in the state.  So poor was the system that it failed to provide some of the basic recommendations by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) dating back to the mid 1980’s.

 

While PBA had established membership in WSPD in 1991, efforts to address unfair disciplinary practices did not begin until the election of a local chapter board of directors and the first ever PBA candidate screenings of Winston-Salem’s Mayor and City Council took place.  While progress occurred, systemic problems with disciplinary procedures remained unchanged.

 

All that changed on September 11, 2000, with the election of Officer Brett Moyer as chapter president.  Under Moyer’s leadership and with eight new board members, the Winston-Salem Chapter over the next three years filed a series of successful grievances.  The chapter resolved concerns including longevity pay, federal overtime, medical benefits, public records requests, and improper hiring procedures.

 

President Brett Moyer as a member of the Winston-Salem board

 

While these successes followed successful PBA candidate screenings of the Winston-Salem city council, Moyer became the target of city management, especially as the chapter focused on unfair disciplinary practices.

 

On November 26, 2003, Moyer was fired.  The charges were not only false, but ridiculous.  Moyer’s termination best exemplified the unfair, arbitrary, and arguably unlawful practices of the corrupt culture the chapter was trying to address.

 

Moyer’s final appeal before the city manager was conducted on February 12, 2004.  Despite outstanding representation by two PBA assigned attorneys, expert witness testimony and PBA staff assistance that not only exonerated Moyer, but revealed false and/or misleading practices in the investigation (substantiated by sworn testimony from the IA investigator), the city manager ignored these facts and upheld the termination. Moyer said it got so bad that officers were afraid to come and testify in his defense, concerned that they might be the next one fired for speaking out and telling the truth.  He said, “My biggest fear was that the city would take action against my law enforcement certification.” 

 

His termination occurred the day after giving a speech at a city council meeting where the council voted to do away with longevity pay for new officers while freezing longevity for current officers.

 

During preparations for a lawsuit against the city, a settlement was reached on June 23, 2004.  The termination was rescinded, and Moyer’s certification was carried by another agency, but his law enforcement career in Winston-Salem was over.  For his efforts to just do the right thing, the citizens of Winston Salem lost an excellent police officer. 

 

Then Officer Brett Moyer

 

As for Moyer, he advised he had no regrets, stating at the time that he knew what might happen and he would do it all again.  Doing the right thing and taking a stand, however, is not always met with comfort. Moyer said,  “Back when all this was happening, I was very concerned about my future in law enforcement and my ability to provide for my family.”  At the time his wife was recovering from a battle with cancer and they had two small children. His wife was also a stay-at-home mom, and their finances were tight to begin with.  Winston-Salem even fought against his claim for unemployment, but the city lost giving his family some income.  As the grievance process dragged on, they were barely making ends meet.  “Fortunately, a group of officers passed the hat around and came by the house with cash to help us get by.” he said.

 

Brett Moyer and His Family

 

Since leaving law enforcement, Moyer has built a successful career as a financial advisor.  For nearly twenty years now, he has been with Ameriprise Financial.  He is currently the Treasurer on the High Point Police Foundation and an Assistant Baseball Coach for the varsity baseball team at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem.  He continues to serve PBA members and their families with fundraisers and contributions to PBA’s charitable arm, the Police Benevolent Foundation.

 

Moyer’s leaving left a hole in the morale of his fellow officers and while the chapter and membership continued, little leadership stepped forward to continue what he had started.

 

That all changed in the spring of 2015 with the election of David Rose as the chapter president.  Under his leadership, local chapter screenings resumed, resulting in the most successful PBA endorsement of Winston-Salem city council in history.  With almost full council support and newly acquired communications with the city manager’s office, chapter successes included a citywide, 60-mile radius take home car policy, a new pay scale system and a 24% across the board pay raise over the past two years.

 

In 2020 following successful screenings of state legislators and securing support from the majority of the Winston-Salem City Council and the Mayor, PBA pushed for long sought legislation for a civil service board providing an independent, final and binding hearing process for officers after city management determination.

 

The significance of this cannot be overstated.  Beginning in the late 1940’s, the city management form of government was adopted in North Carolina for all cities with a citizen population of 25,000 or more.  Started as a means to prevent political corruption in local government, municipalities such as Winston-Salem turned what appeared as a laudable cause into a system of unfettered autocratic corruption by city management.  Instead of preventing inappropriate political interference from elected officials towards city management, the system provided absolute power to city managers to control the actions of police officers that has led to the unfair and even unlawful destruction of numerous law enforcement careers.

 

This system has been vigorously defended by government organizations such as the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) established more than 100 years ago.  During more recent times, anti-law enforcement animus, violence against police officers, and efforts by city officials to defund the police have led some cities to use this system of city management autocracy to manipulate legitimate and lawful police actions and end careers of numerous police officers for political reasons and otherwise; void of any required findings of fact or conclusions of law.

 

Such was the case for Winston-Salem police officers like Brett Moyer until August 16, 2023, with the passage of Senate Bill 9.

 

Following months of discussions with Winston-Salem city leaders and state legislators endorsed by PBA, House Bill 470, Winston-Salem/Greensboro Civil Service Board, was introduced in the 2023 North Carolina General Assembly on March 23, 2023.  Greensboro members were added to the bill following the reactivation of the Piedmont Triad Chapter and the leadership of Chapter President and Greensboro police officer, Thomas Sescoe.

 

However, with HB470 scheduled before the House Local Government Committee on April 25, 2023, several local officials began withdrawing their promised support.  The Winston-Salem mayor and several council members advised legislators to oppose the bill.  Others simply stayed silent.  The Greensboro city manager, despite support from the mayor, called the bill a racist bill.  Senator Paul Lowe agreed.  Several local officials led by Winston-Salem City Attorney Angela Carmen made personal presentations before the Local Government Committee that not only contradicted the city’s previous position of support to PBA, but included statements that were either false or had nothing to do with the bill.

 

Fortunately, the opposition did not impress the Committee as HB 470 received a near unanimous, bipartisan favorable report, with some committee members voicing support for similar legislation in their districts.

 

This same day, HB 470 received a favorable report from the House Rules Committee.  The bill passed the full House on April 26, 2023, was engrossed, and sent to the Senate.

 

On an interesting note, opposition to the bill came from an odd source.  HB 470 was opposed by a local police union in Greensboro that has been representing its members for several decades.  The Greensboro Police Officers Association (GPOA), while not showing up at the committee hearing apparently authorized police management to report their opposition to the Committee. Their bizarre opposition to procedural due process for their members was confirmed by our local chapter leadership who after follow-up with GPOA were told 1.) they were not invited to the table, which is untrue and 2.) they believe due process for police officers would give city council too much power, which is inconceivable.

 

While such myopic behavior did not stop House passage of the bill, it did bolster other local opposition to stall the bill in the Senate.  Led by Senate democrats representing Forsyth and Gilford counties, claims that the bill was “racist” buried the bill in the Senate Rules Committee.

 

Fortunately, PBA endorsed House and Senate members who did not succumb to the prevarications of the bill’s detractors and worked diligently to bring HB 470 back to the table.  Amended into Senate Bill 9, Local Omnibus Changes, the language of HB 470 passed in both House and Senate chambers simultaneously on August 16, 2023.  Because of the bill’s special circumstances as a budget item, SB 9 was not subject to gubernatorial veto, thus ending further opposition or debate, and on August 17, 2023, was ratified becoming state law, SL 2023-112.

 

Winston-Salem and Greensboro police officers are now joined by North Carolina’s state law enforcement officers and local officers in six other municipal agencies who are entitled to fair impartial and binding due process for disciplinary allegations arising from their duties as law enforcement officers.

 

This would not have happened without the efforts of the local chapters led by Winston-Salem Chapter President, David Rose and later Jamie Keltner, and newly elected Piedmont Triad Chapter President, Thomas Sescoe.  PBA also appreciates the support of Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan and the Professional Firefighters of Greensboro.

 

PBA is especially grateful to those legislators that never wavered from their support, promise and commitment to our members and the professional men and women of law enforcement.  Their tireless dedication, in spite of fierce opposition from many of their local government colleagues, is what ultimately pushed this over the finish line.

 

They include Representative Jeff Zenger and Majority Whip Jon Hardister, and Senators Joyce Krawiec and President Pro Tempore Phil Berger.

 

The first person to contact PBA when the bill became law was Moyer who advised how pleased he was for fellow officers.  Brett advised that he never thought he would see this (due process) happen in his lifetime.  Without the dedication, leadership, and sacrifice of officers like him, it probably never would have.

 

 

Below are quotes from representatives supporting this bill

 

“We have witnessed instances where due process has been threatened by politics or emotion.  The civil service board strengthens due process for our first responders. I have had a front row seat to what our officers do and so it is a natural fit for me to work with the PBA.”

Representative Jeff Zenger

“This legislation will add another layer of due process for who work in public safety. It makes sense to provide our first responders with this ability to ensure that they are treated fairly in their place of employment. The PBA was very effective in advocating for this legislation and I could not have gotten it done without their support.”

Representative Jon Hardister

 

 

“I was proud to help with getting this legislation over the finish line.  In today’s policing environment officers are constantly on guard against those that want to take away their livelihood, by second guessing their actions or falsely accusing them with bogus complaints.  The passage of this bill into law will guarantee that hundreds of officers will have due process protections as they risk their lives for the citizens they serve.”

Senator Joyce Krawiec

“Our system of justice is built on the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, that principle has been unfairly thrown by the wayside when it comes to our men and women in uniform. I am proud to have helped pass legislation that commits to fair and impartial due process for any disciplinary allegations against law enforcement.”

Senator Phil Berger, President Pro Tempore

 

 

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