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And Chief Neeley makes six to leave in Pine Ridge with his resignation 

Pine Ridge, SC (Paul Kirby) – Shortly after Pine Ridge’s Interim Police Chief Vincent Silano gave notice that he was leaving the town’s police department Tuesday night citing meddling in the department by the mayor among other things, former Interim Police Chief Frankie Neeley also gave notice that he would be leaving. Chief Neeley has served in the interim chief capacity before and has been working in a part-time capacity again under Silano. He had not been in any way demoted. His capacity with the department has always been part-time as Neeley works full-time for the SC National Guard. 

Frankie Neeley has stepped up before to accept the position as interim chief when one of the five chiefs or interim chiefs left or was fired from the department in the last three years. Born and raised in Pine Ridge, the former active-duty United States Marine is a highly respected and capable law enforcement officer with many years of service experience. He has never shown an interest in becoming the full-time police chief in Pine Ridge and has said in the past that he enjoys his work with the National Guard. When Pine Ridge would hire a full-time police chief over the last three years or promote a full-time officer into the position of interim chief, Neeley willingly would step back and continue working with Pine Ridge in his former capacity, patrolling the streets of the town at a lesser rank. 

The decision to resign did not appear to be an easy one for Chief Neeley according to citizens that had attended the meeting. He has been dedicated to serving the citizens of Pine Ridge when his time allowed for years. When announcing to the council that he too was resigning, he said that with Silano’s resignation Pine Ridge no longer had a police department. Mayor Wells answered that by telling Neeley that they could have a department apparently alluding  to the fact that Neeley would be offered the opportunity to take over the department in an interim capacity again. Chief Neeley is a practical man that has been through all of this with the citizens of Pine Ridge. Not one to continue to stand on the deck of a sinking ship alone, he respectfully declined that offer. Instead, Chief Neeley informed the mayor and council that it was his understanding that a department had to have at least one full-time officer on staff to continue to function. Since Silano’s resignation left the town with no full-time police officers, he informed the leaders he would gather and inventory his gear and turn in his equipment by the end of the week. 

Neeley’s resignation was immediately met with outrage by citizens of the town and the community who have lived through the three-year tenure of Mayor Robert Wells. Wells was elected in a write-in campaign after serving on the town’s council for several terms. He had not filed to run for reelection in the 2017 municipal election and former Mayor David Busby was running unopposed. Within four days of the date of the election, Wells’ son announced via social media that his father had been asked to run by a group of concerned citizens. After Wells won the election with just 82 write-in votes he said in an interview with The Lexington Ledger that his entire decision to run for mayor was based on the fact that, “They asked me to.” In that same interview, Wells was asked who they were, and what did they not like about former Mayor Busby’s leadership. Wells declined to say who “they” were. In that same interview, Wells was asked if there was a problem with the community, its direction, some old grudges that had finally surfaced that made him the better choice than Busby and his answer was simply, “no.” Not long after that, the carnage at the police department began. 

In the past week, the staff of The Lexington Ledger has spoken with or communicated via text with every former chief or interim chief Pine Ridge has had over the past three years. In total there have been six now. Each have cited the mayor as the major and in most cases the only factor in their decision to leave Pine Ridge. The common thread amongst them has been simple. All have said that the mayor and self-appointed police commissioner Robert Wells thinks and acts as if he’s the police chief. Although Wells did earn a two-year associates degree in criminal justice as a younger man, his career was not in law enforcement. He was the successful manager of an industrial complex in southern Lexington County and later owned a construction business.  

Pine Ridge Councilmember Beth Spires Sturkie said Tuesday night that she wanted to make sure the community knew that she had opposed Mayor Wells in his decisions regarding the police department. Spires had asked Silano during Tuesday night’s meeting if there was anything the council could do to make Silano reconsider his decision to leave the department. To that he answered, “Nothing.” 

After Pine Ridge held a public meeting three years ago to announce that they had, “separated” from Chief Billy Parker, demoted acting Police Chief Eddie Powell, and fired full-time officer Johnathan Carswell, the council had made a habit of going into executive session with the majority of its members then voting to turn police department personnel decisions over to the two member Public Safety Committee. Because that committee did not constitute a quorum of the council, they could meet out of the eyes of the public and make decisions that would later just be publicly announced. Spires has said that she was normally the one dissenting vote when that came up in their executive sessions. Tuesday night she said as long as the mayor continued to serve on the Public Safety Committee, “I will never vote to turn over any decisions to them.” She brought into question Wells’ honesty with the remainder of the council saying, “I don't believe anything that comes out of his mouth!” 

Wednesday morning, the citizens of the area appeared to be in shock that they no longer had a police department. The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department will as always answer calls for service from the citizen of Pine Ridge; however, these calls will be put into their queue and classified according to the seriousness of the call. 

It remains to be seen if the citizens of Pine Ridge and the majority of its town council have finally had enough of Wells and will stand up to him. South Carolina does have a recall provision for elected officials, but that process may take some time. Wells will be up for reelection next November if he chooses to run again. 

Because Pine Ridge operates under South Carolina’s strong council form of government, Wells has no more power than any other member of the council. If the town’s citizens are really finally fed up, their best bet is to go to, go through the process of gathering the contact information for each of the other elected council members, and send a strong message that enough is enough!


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