Appointed panel may be close to issuing final report

(Image courtesy Flickr creative commons)

December 29, 2010 8:23:27 PM PST
The blue-ribbon panel appointed by the governor months ago to help figure out how to clean up the troubled agency may be close to finishing its job.Over the summer, the Highway Patrol was rocked by embarrassment after embarrassment --in some cases senior officers were at the heart of the allegations.

In response, Governor Perdue appointed a six person panel to take a hard look at the agency and offer advice on four things.

In September, they made two of them -- how to rebuild the integrity of the patrol and policy at the patrol. They asked for more time for the other two --whether a state law requiring the patrol's colonel to come from within the ranks should change and how to rebuild the integrity of the patrol.

As the panel works to finish its job, dozens of internal e-mails obtained by the ABC11 Eyewitness News I-Team show that members aren't all on the same page.

Reading through the e-mails between panel members, there is the sense that there are camps within the panel --those who favor real change at the Highway Patrol and those who don't.

A first crack at a final report, submitted by Chris Swecker and Peter Gilchrist, highlights areas where they think the Highway Patrol could do better.

The same report was amended by patrol leadership and offered to the rest of the panel for comment.

The two versions are similar, but Swecker noticed a few differences writing, "I propose leaving intact ... a 'trail audit' or root cause analysis of serious misconduct ... focused on accountability up and across the chain of command."

But at least one member of the panel, Burley Mitchell, suggested no major changes are needed.

"I haven't seen evidence of a systemic problem and they don't appear to have identified one," Mitchell wrote. "Keep the faith, Mr. Secretary."

Swecker's draft also calls for a change in state law. Current law ties the governor's hands and forced her to chose a Highway Patrol commander from within the ranks.

Swecker wrote that changing the law would "potentially expose the NCSHP to different leadership styles, new ideas, best practices and an international professional network."

But again, other members had different opinions.

"I still find no evidence that a change in state law ... is warranted beyond generalized policy opinions," panel member Norma Houston wrote.

But Swecker is resolute. In a final e-mail, he acknowledged he's in the minority, but wrote that the Highway Patrol doesn't "need, nor deserve the same issues coming back to haunt them every couple of years."

Tuesday was the last day for panel members to comment on the proposed report, which may mean a final report will find its way to the governor's desk soon.

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