Crime & Public Safety

Why was Bluffton’s police chief paid nearly $80,000 to not be in Bluffton?

Bluffton police chief Joey Reynolds traveled out of town for almost five of the past 15 months, including to places like Argentina, Chile and Morocco, in his separate role as a board member of an international police organization — mostly while receiving his regular taxpayer-funded salary.

His overall travel time connected to his involvement with the FBI National Academy Associates was almost 10 months, or about 17 percent, of his nearly five-year tenure as chief, records show.

The estimated cost to Bluffton taxpayers while he was absent: $78,738, which represents the amount of town salary he was paid while he was traveling on FBI NAA business.

In addition, when the 60-year-old Reynolds, whose annual salary this year is $118,059, retires on June 30, he will be eligible for a cash payout of as much as $41,911 for his unused paid time off — money that could have been used to help offset the taxpayer cost of his travels.

Since becoming Bluffton’s chief in September 2012, Reynolds has taken 67 trips with the FBI NAA, an alumni association for the nonprofit FBI National Academy, a training organization near Washington, D.C. The FBI NAA bills itself as the “world’s strongest law enforcement leadership network,” boasting a global membership of nearly 17,000.

Reynolds, who has been involved with the Quantico, Va.-based organization since 1996, is completing his one-year term as the FBI NAA president. He was scheduled to spend parts of the weeks of June 12 and June 19 in Cambodia — his last NAA trip while the Bluffton chief.

“I’ve never heard of it before — not to this magnitude,” said John Crangle, a longtime government watchdog and government relations director for the South Carolina Progressive Network, a Columbia-based advocacy organization aimed, according to its Facebook page, at promoting “good government and healthy communities.”

“Sometimes state or local employees go off on business, go to a professional conference or something like that,” Crangle, an attorney, continued. “But here you have an unusually high number of absences to the point where it’s going to interfere with the police chief’s performance of his duties.

“How can you perform your duties when you’re gone so much from the workplace?”

Reynolds and town officials said his absences didn’t interfere with his duties as chief; all his travel expenses were paid by the FBI NAA; and the police department directly benefited from his NAA board positions.

“I’m so proud of our capabilities now,” Reynolds said in an interview earlier this month at the police department. “When I first came, I was worried when we got a major incident. Now, there’s nothing we can’t handle.”

Reynolds, town officials and members of the town council all contend the benefits of the chief’s involvement with the FBI NAA — including training opportunities and connections with other police departments — justified the cost to taxpayers.

In addition, Reynolds said his acceptance of the chief’s job was conditional in part on the town allowing him to continue his involvement, which included out-of-town travels, with the NAA.

But although his 2012 employment-offer letter acknowledged that his FBI NAA role “may cause time away from Bluffton,” it didn’t put any limits on the number of those trips. It also was silent about whether the town would pay his regular salary or require him to use his paid time off while he was gone.

A review by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette of police and town records obtained under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act found that:

▪ Since Reynolds started as Bluffton’s chief on Sept. 17, 2012, he traveled out of town on FBI NAA business for a collective 290 days, 200 of which, or about 70 percent, were during weekdays — totaling 40 normal work weeks — and 90 days were on weekends.

▪ Of his 67 trips, 60 were to various locations throughout the U.S., while seven were to Argentina, Austria, Cambodia, Chile, Germany, Nepal and Morocco.

▪ When Reynolds traveled for FBI NAA business on weekdays, at least 93 percent of his travel was done when he was being paid his full-time salary.

▪ Although Reynolds accrued about 129 paid-time-off days over five years, he opted for the most part not to use his PTO hours on travel for FBI NAA business. Employees can use their PTO hours for sick days, vacation days and bereavement at their discretion, according to the Bluffton town handbook. In the nearly five years of his employment, he took approximately 36 PTO days as of June 7, according to deputy town manager Scott Marshall.

▪ According to town policy, PTO hours roll over and accrue year-to-year. With the 720 PTO hours, or approximately 92 PTO days Reynolds had left over as of June 7, he is entitled to receive a cash payout of $41,911.20 when he retires June 30. That’s assuming he doesn’t use any more PTO hours from June 7 to June 30.

▪ Since becoming chief, Reynolds’ annual pay increased from $98,900 to $118,059, a jump of more than 19 percent. In comparison, the average annual salary for police chiefs in the U.S. is $88,400. And the average salary for S.C. police chiefs is $59,240 — about half as much as Reynolds’ salary — according to May 2016 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Reynolds leads a department of 51 sworn officers and 12 non-sworn officers.

As Reynolds rose through the ranks on the FBI NAA Board of Executives over the past five years, his travel increased, too, records show. In 106 days as chief in 2012, he traveled six days; in 2013, he spent 26 days traveling.

But in 2016, the year he became the board president, Reynolds was gone 99 days total, including 76 weekdays. That’s about 15 five-day weeks — or nearly four work months out of the year.

It’s not required that the FBI NAA president be an active law enforcement officer, though it is required for some lower board positions, according to Steve Tidwell, the organization’s executive director. The NAA does not pay Reynolds a salary, although it does cover his travel costs, he said.

Bluffton town officials on May 31 announced that Reynolds, who spent most of his law enforcement career in North Carolina, was retiring from the department at the end of this month.

The announcement came amid open-records requests by the Packet and Gazette newspapers for documents relating to Reynolds’ travels with the FBI NAA. Police department spokeswoman Joy Nelson said recently the chief’s decision had “absolutely nothing” to do with the newspapers’ investigation.

In his interview earlier this month, Reynolds said he chose this time to leave to be closer to his family in North Carolina. He also said he found an “opportunity” in the private sector in North Carolina, though he declined to give specifics.

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Town Awareness

Bluffton officials say they knew of Reynolds’ involvement with the FBI NAA when he was hired, and that he would travel in his outside role.

Reynolds’ direct supervisor is the town manager, a position held by Anthony Barrett when the chief was hired in September 2012. In an email this month to the newspapers, Barrett said he knew that Reynolds would be required to travel for the FBI NAA, noting Reynolds’ involvement with the organization was partly why he was chosen to lead Bluffton’s police department.

The town’s offer letter to Reynolds, dated Aug. 20, 2012, reads:

“...(T)he town understands and values your membership with the FBI National Academy Associates and acknowledges your executive Board participation and your rise in 2017 to its presidency which may cause time away from Bluffton.”

Although the offer letter acknowledged Reynolds’ potential travel, it did not include specifics regarding how much time Reynolds would be away from Bluffton, which is significant, according to Crangle of the S.C. Progressive Network.

“Why were the terms so vague about these absences?” Crangle said. “Why wasn’t there any specificity as to how many absences would be authorized, and whether or not he would be paid when he was absent?”

Asked whether Reynolds discussed the extent of his travel with Barrett when hired, Barrett replied: “Of course he did. Do you believe a consummate law enforcement professional and highly ethical person as he is would do otherwise?”

Barrett, who is now executive director of the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society, declined to answer further questions about Reynolds’ employment terms, though he praised the chief as one of his “finest appointments.”

Besides his current annual $118,059 salary, Reynolds receives other benefits, including a $600 monthly car allowance, $76 monthly internet reimbursement, and a bonus this year of $862, according to an email from Marshall, the deputy town manager.

Marc Orlando, Bluffton’s current town manager, told the newspapers he was aware of the extent to which Reynolds would be traveling, because he was connected to Reynolds’ online calendar. And he approved Reynolds’ trips, contending that his FBI NAA presidency “pays dividends” to the police department and the town.

“Chief Reynolds has done an amazing job as our chief of police and a leader in our community over the past five years,” Orlando said. “I believe that his police officers have benefited from his vision, his global understanding of policing, and the practices that he has put in place, including special investigations teams, a community policing platform and high-quality training for everybody in the police department.”

Orlando and Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka traveled with Reynolds to an FBI NAA conference in St. Louis in July 2016 — a trip that was paid for by the town of Bluffton — when Reynolds became president of the organization. Sulka helped swear him in.

“When he was vice president, I do remember the discussion of the length that he would be gone — not to the number of days — but the town was very aware of it,” said Sulka in a recent interview. “We were not surprised.”

Sulka added she expected Reynolds’ travel to take him away from the town more than it actually did.

Other current Town Council members contacted by the newspapers said while they were not aware of the exact number of days that Reynolds traveled, they were notified when Reynolds would be gone.

Benefits for Bluffton?

The question that follows: Did the town get its worth for what it invested in Reynolds and his FBI NAA involvement?

Reynolds says yes.

Part of that value, he said, comes in the form of training.

“Two Bluffton police officers have been sent to the FBI National Academy at very little cost to the town,” Reynolds said. “I mean, if I had to pay per diem for somebody to go to that academy for ten weeks, I couldn’t afford it.”

The academy offers its 10-week training sessions to police officers free of charge, said Kurt Crawford, a media representative for the FBI’s training division. Local police departments are required to pay the officers’ salaries while they are at the training, and they may opt to pay for transportation as well, he said.

Reynolds said he also used his clout in the FBI NAA to enable the Bluffton Police Department to host training sessions without the cost of paying for the instructor — 52 sessions last year — and town police officers were allowed to participate.

In addition, Reynolds said he made connections with other police departments, both nationally and internationally, through the NAA. He said that has allowed him to communicate with other police chiefs about best practices for various challenges, such as handling Hurricane Matthew last fall or developing a K-9 unit.

For instance, after Hurricane Matthew hit the Lowcountry, Reynolds said he utilized the FBI NAA’s partnership with the Christian humanitarian organization Samaritan's Purse, which helped community members with post-hurricane cleanup for two months.

Reynolds said his connections could help with investigations that span across state and even national lines.

“If I’ve got a bad guy that’s in Michigan, I’ve got a contact in Michigan that we can call… (and we can) work together,” Reynolds said.

Another major plus was spreading the word about Bluffton, Reynolds and others said.

“Just because the chief wasn’t here in his community, he was still representing Bluffton and basically exposing Bluffton to so many people who had never heard about the town on a national and international level,” said Nelson, the Bluffton police spokeswoman.

Experts contacted by the newspapers were divided about the benefits and drawbacks of having a police chief so deeply involved in a professional organization.

Reynolds’ association with the FBI NAA can help put “your department, your city on the map. It’s a very well-respected organization,” said Adam Dobrin, associate professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University.

“It’s not uncommon for a police chief to be involved in professional organizations,” said Stan Stojkovic, professor of criminal justice and dean of the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

But he added: “We don’t expect them (police chiefs) to be gone for long periods of time. People who are citizens have an expectation of your presence. Your presence provides the face of legitimacy.”

Punching the time clock

Bluffton town payroll records obtained by the newspapers show that Reynolds’ paycheck is calculated on a 39-hour work week. But the chief said he routinely puts in far more hours.

“If you want to talk about time, I work weekends; I work nights,” Reynolds said. “I don’t work a 39-hour week. I never have, and I’ve been involved in law enforcement for 40 years.”

“The chief of police is on duty 24/7,” said Arthur Baylor, who served as president of the FBI NAA in 2009 while serving as the police chief in Montgomery, Alabama.

Still, although Reynolds is a salaried employee of the town, he has received overtime pay – which, under town policy, he is eligible to receive only for emergency situations – most notably last Oct. 20 when he received $16,216 for 195 hours of overtime, payroll records show. Town officials said that pay covered the time when Reynolds worked during Hurricane Matthew.

In recent years, Maj. Joseph Manning, the town’s deputy chief who was hired in September 2013, often was named acting chief when Reynolds was away on FBI NAA business, according to memos from Reynolds to department staff. On June 7 – a week after town officials confirmed Reynolds’ planned retirement to the newspapers – town manager Orlando announced that he had hired Manning as Reynolds’ permanent replacement, effective July 1.

Reynolds said even when he was out of town on FBI NAA trips, he was in regular communication with the police department. While away, he said he checked in with Manning at least twice a day, plus answered emails, phone calls and text messages regarding department business throughout the day.

“I made calls to (Reynolds) when he was away, and he still answered the phone,” said town council member Larry Toomer – a sentiment echoed by Sulka and other council members. “He was always available, even when he was out of town.”

PTO payout

Even so, though, Reynolds’ time spent traveling with the FBI NAA far exceeded the one or two weeks a year that other professionals or public officials might typically spend at conferences.

And because he usually was paid his regular town salary during his travels instead of using his PTO hours, he is entitled to receive a cash payout for accrued PTO hours when he retires, Orlando said.

The newspapers’ calculation puts that figure at $41,911, assuming Reynolds doesn’t use any more PTO before he leaves at the end of next week.

“It’s important that he has the same rights and privileges and allowances that every other employee has that has worked for the town of Bluffton,” Orlando said, referring to the PTO payout.

Reynolds justified receiving his regular town salary during his travels with the FBI NAA, contending it was “standard” practice.

But “there’s no clear answer” when it comes to whether public officials should receive their regular salary or PTO when traveling for a professional organization, said Gene Brewer, a University of Georgia professor who specializes in human resources issues in public administration.

“It depends partly on how closely that secondary duty is related to the primary duty,” Brewer said.

In other words, whether Reynolds should have been paid his regular town salary for working with the FBI NAA depends on how much work he did related to Bluffton’s police department while traveling — a figure that’s difficult to quantify.

Diane Scanga, director of public safety programs at Jefferson College in Missouri and who was president of the FBI NAA in 2012, said her time traveling for the organization was split between PTO and regular paid time. She said she took nine trips related to the NAA, along with a few other trips to police conferences, during her presidency; in comparison, Reynolds took 26 trips during his presidency, records show.

But Scanga said the role of the NAA president is tied up with the role of police chief.

“There’s the value of what contacts he’s making, and value in what information he’s getting,” she said.

Barrett, who hired Reynolds; Orlando; and current and former Town Council members contacted by the newspapers shared Scanga’s view, offering both approval and praise of the police chief.

For his part, in the final days of his tenure, Reynolds stands by his decision to work for the police department and the FBI NAA at the same time.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done here in this community,” he said.

Kasia Kovacs: 843-706-8139, @kasiakovacs

How do we know how much Reynolds traveled?

First, Reynolds provided The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette with a spreadsheet of his FBI NAA-related travel days from when he started as police chief in September 2012 through 2017. The newspapers later requested documents, including payroll records, memos and gas records; verified the dates; and fact-checked any discrepancies between the spreadsheet provided by Reynolds and the other documents.

Overall, the newspapers calculated that Reynolds traveled 290 days from September 2012 to June 2017. Of those travel days, 90 were weekends; 43 were Fridays; and 157 were Mondays through Thursdays. Reynolds labeled weekends as “personal days.” He also labeled Fridays as “personal days” — because he said the town of Bluffton generally considers them to be partial workdays.

However, the newspapers’ analysis grouped the Fridays with the rest of the workdays. Why? For one, Friday is a weekday. Also, the newspapers’ calculations were based in part on the town of Bluffton’s payroll records. Those records say Reynolds’ salary is calculated on a 39-hour work week. That’s an average of 7.8 hours per day.

Therefore, Reynolds traveled for 90 weekend days and 200 weekdays. Here’s a chart broken down year by year:

FBINAA travel daysWeekendsWeekdaysAnnual total
Cumulative total90200290
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