Pine Ridge, SC – The “wanna-be policeman” mayor of a small South Carolina town has micromanaged its tiny police department out of five interim or full-time police chiefs and five other officers in the three years since he was elected and now there’s nobody left.
Pine Ridge Mayor Robert Wells was elected in 2017 and quickly got involved in the day-to-day operations of the police department which then consisted of three full-time officers and several part-time officers, according to The State.
The latest resignation stemmed from a memo Wells sent to the most recent interim police chief, Pine Ridge Police Lieutenant Vincent Silano, that dictated exactly when and how the acting police chief should do his job, the Lexington Ledger reported.
The memo, drafted by the mayor in his capacity as Pine Ridge police commissioner, directed Lt. Silano to be at work from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday and specified that he should focus solely on children crossing through Pine Ridge’s School Zones during certain periods of time.
Wells gave Lt. Silano, who by then was the only full-time officer left on the Pine Ridge Police Department, permission to attend to other duties associated with being police chief on Wednesdays when the children are home for virtual learning days, the Lexington Ledger reported.
The mayor also suspended the Pine Ridge police K9 program and said that it wasn’t needed in their jurisdiction and complained the dog was only used for mutual aid calls from other departments.
“In town, the number of calls for a canine were zero,” Wells told The State. “Everything was mutual aid calls to other municipalities.”
The mayor’s reasoning in the memo suspending the K9 program was to “better ensure your availability and attention to this priority,” meaning the added focus on safety in the town’s school zones, the Lexington Ledger reported.
However, Lt. Silano said Wells didn’t really care about what was happening in those areas because he didn’t even want to see what citations had been issued in the school zones when he tried to show him.
The cancellation of the K9 program by Wells was perceived as a personal attack on Lt. Silano, who had brought K9 Rens to the Pine Ridge Police Department with him, certified and ready to work for free, the Lexington Ledger reported.
Lt. Silano appealed the mayor’s decision to the town council and asked to have the K9 program reinstated.
He accused the mayor of yet again micromanaging the Pine Ridge Police Department, according to the Lexington Ledger.
The interim chief said Wells had used the Sept. 22 memo to plot out the top cop’s day.
“He went so far as to spell out specific duties and listed them for me,” Lt. Silano told the town council. “He said I was to detain speeders, ensure no improper turns, ensure the orderly flow of traffic, and other things. Why did he ever trust me with the title of interim chief if he didn’t think I knew how to enforce general traffic laws without him spelling them out?”
He explained the mayor had gotten upset after he called his interim chief about a crime involving his neighbors and Lt. Silano didn’t immediately jump up and rush to the scene, the Lexington Ledger reported.
Lt. Silano said a neighbor of Wells had his lawnmower stolen and a vehicle broken into, and that a gun was stolen from the car.
The mayor called his interim chief and told him he had reviewed surveillance footage of the crime and told him to respond to his neighbor’s house, the Lexington Ledger reported.
“I told the mayor that I would come and look at the video and he gave me a description of the suspect over the phone,” Lt. Silano explained. “I didn’t completely drop what I was doing and rush around there because the crime hadn’t just occurred. I truly believe that the mayor got angry that I didn’t jump when he called.”
So Wells called the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department and asked them to have deputies take over the investigation, according to the now-former interim chief, the Lexington Ledger reported.
“I was told that the sheriff’s department never opened a case on those,” Lt. Silano said.
On Oct. 13, Lt. Silano submitted his resignation letter to Wells and the town council, The State reported.
The interim police chief’s resignation letter said he had quit “solely due to the constant impediment of police matters and micro-managing at the hands of Mayor Robert Wells.”
“It has created a hostile work environment for not only myself but my two part time officers as well and it will not be tolerated,” Lt. Silano wrote. “Since it does not seem that anything can be done regardless of the knowledge of wrongdoing, I have no choice but to resign from my position.”
Every chief who has resigned during Wells’ tenure as mayor has said the same thing, The State reported.
The former chiefs complained that Wells insisted on having control over every detail of the police department and directed officers to give the bulk of their attention to his neighbors rather than patrolling the higher-crime areas, the Lexington Ledger reported.
Two former chiefs complained that Wells had told them to do strict speed enforcement on his street no matter what else was going on.
Several former employees have filed lawsuits against the town of Pine Ridge that complained the mayor and his constant meddling in the police department had created a hostile work environment or unfair practices, the Lexington Ledger reported.
Wells has vigorously defended his handling of the Pine Ridge police and said that attrition isn’t his fault, according to The State.
“We have Lexington and different towns offering a $10,000 cash bonus just to walk in the door,” the mayor said. “We have no tax base. Nobody in this room or in this town has paid a dime [in taxes] for police in this town. All the money comes from franchise fees and business licenses.”
He said high turnover was normal and didn’t mean there was anything wrong, The State reported.
Wells also defended redirecting law enforcement resources to school zones.
“If that’s mismanagement or micromanagement or whatever you call it, then that’s micromanagement,” he said.
But former Pine Ridge Police Chief Billy Parker, who ran the police department from 2011 until 2017 until after Wells took office, described Wells as a “wanna-be policeman,” The State reported.
Former Chief Parker said that when Wells served on the on the public safety committee as a town council member, he would do ride-alongs with officers on patrol.
“Mayor [David] Busby mostly kept him off my back,” the former police chief said.
Busby was defeated by Wells in a write-in campaign in 2017.
Another member of the town council proposed removing the mayor from the public safety committee in November but the motion failed by a vote of 3 to 2, The State reported.
“Even if the applicants we get are qualified, it’s hard not to think they’re not already concerned about what they will face when they get here,” Pine Ridge Town Council Member Beth Spires Sturkie said.
At least one former police chief agreed with her assessment, The State reported.
“Anybody in their right mind would not work there,” former Chief Parker said. “They’ve seen it’s short-term. If you leave a department for that job and then get fired or resign, you’ll be lucky to get another job.”
Pine Ridge Mayor Pro Tempore Daniel Davis defended the mayor, according to The State.
Davis said that none of the former Pine Ridge officers who complained about Wells said “the mayor told them they couldn’t enforce a code, told them they couldn’t write a ticket, told them they couldn’t investigate a crime.”
“Micromanaging is a management style,” Davis told The State. “It’s not my style, but it is a style.”
The Pine Ridge Police Department posted an advertisement for a new police chief on its official Facebook page in October.