Thunderbolt Emergency Meeting

Council members debate the issue
of the former police chief.

The council came up with a severance package for former chief Sam O'Dwyer and appointed Lieutenant Richard Coleman, the highest-ranking officer in the department, to interim chief. But some town council members are still wondering how things got this far.

Council member Bobby Hardeman is disappointed it got to this. "I don't think the compensation package of $5,792 dollars is what we should spend," he said at the meeting. "I think all we should give him his 80 hours."

He went on to say, "I think it should have been done a long time ago. Why? Because of the question of his certification."

A judge ordered Sam O'Dwyer to give up his POST certification for two years after improperly using a drug informant while working for the Effingham County Sheriff's Department--meaning he couldn't make arrests. He also had to resign.

"When Sam came to us we knew we had a problem," said mayor Jimmy Petrea. "But he was under the impression, and we were under the impression, he was still certified."

"If I had the opportunity to hire him back tomorrow, I'd hire him back as chief of police, that's how much I respect him," Petrea added. "I have confidence in the man."

Although the mayor still stands by his decision to hire O'Dwyer back in 1999, he says things will be a bit different in hiring the new chief.

"We're probably going to be a bit more thorough," he said.

The search is now officially on for a new police chief. The town council hopes to hire one in the next 60 days. It only approved interim chief Coleman in the position for 90 days.

Reported by: Holly Bristow