By Gerhard Schneibel
Sandy Springs’ new police chief, Terry Sult, started his first official visit to Sandy Springs on Monday, Oct. 6, with a 6:30 a.m. roll call involving 50 to 65 officers. He spent the day in meetings with City Council members, participated in an open house that night and introduced himself at a council meeting the next day.
Sult will take office Oct. 27. His 90-day plan, which went into effect Oct. 7, is intended to be “fluid and flexible” but “goal-oriented and objective-oriented,” he said.
He plans to use that three-month period to gather information about the city and the department so he can create a three-to-five-year strategic plan.
“What the plan calls for is a self-validation process. It’s really about listening. I’m hearing a lot of positive things, so before we make changes, we’ve got to make sure that we’re aligned with the neighborhoods,” Sult said.
It “remains to be seen” whether he hires any officers from outside the department, including anyone he works with as police chief in Gastonia, N.C., he said. “The first thing I’ve got to do is get a handle on asking a lot of questions and learning and listening.”
He added: “I believe in open communication, honest communication. There are a few rules to it. It needs to be constructive; there can’t be any personal attacks.”
To facilitate that communication, Sult plans to use an electronic survey engine that protects the identities of officers and allows them to express candid opinions about the “strengths and weaknesses of the organization” and “what makes the organization proud.”
“We need to build upon those strengths, and we need to correct those weaknesses, and the starting point begins today,” he said.
Maj. David Bertrand, who became acting chief when Gene Wilson resigned in mid-July, said he was among the 62 applicants for the position taken by Sult. He did not comment on whether he will look for a chief’s position elsewhere, such as Dunwoody, where he lives and which becomes a city Dec. 1.
Bertrand was instrumental in bringing about an outside investigation into officers’ accepting gifts from citizens and abusing off-duty jobs. Wilson resigned six days before the report on the investigation was released. Another officer resigned and two were fired as a result of the investigation.
Bertrand said his intentions are to “support the chief and just drive forward with whatever his plans are.”
City Manager John McDonough said Sult is “off to a very good start.”
“He has very innovative ideas about things. He’s on the cutting edge of law enforcement,” he said. “It’s all about meeting the community expectations, and community expectations in Sandy Springs are high. I believe, based on those expectations, Terry Sult was the right choice.”
Among other accomplishments, Sult helped secure grant and partnership funding for an 800-megahertz emergency communication radio system for Gastonia. The $5.75 million project cost city taxpayers $250,000, according to the Gaston Gazette.
Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul said he was “favorably impressed” after his meeting with Sult.
“I don’t know whether he’s a good politician or not, but I got all the answers I expected,” he said.
Dist. 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries said she felt Sult had done “his homework on the city.”
“I think he’s fully aware of the needs of the city, and I think he’s ready,” she said. “It was a pleasure meeting him; I felt his excitement about coming to Sandy Springs. I’m excited, too. I think he’s the right guy for the job.”
Sult said he’s interested in learning about his “officers’ perception of the organization.”
“The reality is: Yes, I did my homework, and I know the challenges that have faced the department. It’s really difficult to start up a new organization, and I can’t imagine the challenges that the city has gone through,” he said. “There shouldn’t be any surprises to the officers, because they will be part of the decision-making process.”