Posted 6/07/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
Another Tioga police officer resigned Tuesday last week following a decision by the commission to turn down proposals to reinstate two administrative positions cut the week before.
Police Commissioner Ronda Davidson and Streets Commissioner Heather Weflen called a special meeting Tuesday to present proposals that would rehire Police Administrator Jeff Spivey and Amanda Moser, who was an administrative assistant, dispatcher, and clerk of court.
Davidson made separate motions for each of the proposals and neither received a second.
Police officer Jackie Halonen resigned from the department immediately after the meeting.
Prior to the motion, Police Chief Larry Maize argued in favor of the proposals, saying the decision to cut the personnel from his department “severely crippled” its ability to carry out operations.
Maize said, when the department was informed of the intention to cut the positions, they came up with a budget that maintained the positions while still reducing the department’s overall budget, but it was not considered.
“This leads me to believe there’s something else going on here,” Maize stated.
He said Spivey was going to appear before the North Dakota Peace Officer Standards and Training board at the end of the month to receive his limited license.
The limited license would allow him to work under the direction of a licensed officer until he completed his academy training, which Spivey was scheduled to do in September.
Last month, the commission voted on significant budget reductions to bring city expenditures in line with reduced revenues projected for the foreseeable future. The city paid AE2S, a consulting firm, $2,000 to help develop the new budget.
“It would be interesting to know how many people in that consulting firm have any law enforcement experience,” Maize said.
City Auditor Abby Salinas said the firm used Karla Hamel, a financial analyst with over 21 years of experience. Besides the financial expertise the firm provided, their analysis offered a third-party objective view that kept the decisions from any politics or personal feelings towards the people losing their jobs, Salinas said.
Letting citizens down
Prior to the personnel cuts the department had three officers resign, leaving it without the manpower it needs, Maize said.
Maize said officers’ duties extend beyond patrolling the streets. A single arrest can tie an officer up for a minimum of three hours, which doesn’t include paperwork, Maize said.
He said he’s had to put the department’s drug investigations on hold.
“I feel I’m letting the citizens down,” the chief said.
Halonen said other options were available to pay for the positions and urged the commission to exhaust these avenues in pursuit of supporting the proposals to reinstate the cut positions.
She said officers have been working, at times, 16-hour days to meet the departments manpower needs and the fatigue is wearing on officers, creating unsafe conditions.
She said the lack of support from the commission led an officer from another agency who was going to work part-time in Tioga to back out.
She warned the city could have trouble hiring officers in the future due to the “hostile work environment” she said the commission’s decisions have made.
Afraid to speak
Residents of town also spoke in support of Davidson’s proposals and the work Spivey and Moser have done for the city.
After the commission approved a budget that cut the police department’s fund for salaries by 36 percent, McClelland met with Davidson and Maize over the need to cut positions. He presented AE2S’s recommendations, and when no consensus could be reached between the three of them, he took it upon himself to cut the positions.
At Tuesday’s meeting, McClelland said there was a lot of support in town for his actions but most people were afraid to express that support for fear of retaliation from the police. He said he received over 20 emails in support of his decision.
“They were afraid to come to this meeting to state the facts,” he said.
Spivey and Moser were not at the meeting.
Weflen said she too was told by supporters of McClelland’s decision they were afraid of retaliation if they spoke out.
Davidson said the concerns were baseless.
Economic Development Coordinator Dennis Lindahl spoke against the proposals. He said the comments he’s received on the personnel cuts were “overwhelmingly positive.”
Lindahl said in his personal interactions with the police, they have been nothing less than courteous and professional. Despite this, he said he was hesitant to speak on the issue due to the reputation of the department.
He presented a collection of front-page articles culled from the Tribune reporting on past issues with the police. These went back five years.
He said the incidents that were covered in the paper would deter businesses and people from locating in the city.
“This is not how you grow a community,” Lindahl said.
Lindahl said the police presence was often excessive and unnecessary. In one case he said he personally witnessed, three police cars had stopped an elderly lady for speeding.
He warned aggressive policing that deters families and businesses from locating to town would reduce city revenues. In turn it would hit the budget for police, threatening the entire police department.
“There will be no officers. There will be no reserve. There will be no police dogs,” Lindahl said.
Davidson’s proposal to reinstate Spivey’s position paid for his salary from funds that were earmarked for a new patrol officer hire.
If approved, the department would hire a new patrol officer using a Department of Justice grant that was submitted prior to Spivey’s dismissal. Should the department not be awarded the grant, they could pursue funding through the county.
Weflen asked if Spivey would be able to satisfy the department’s need for patrol officers with the limited license.
Maize said Spivey would have the credentials to patrol on his own, so long as another fully licensed patrol officer was on duty at the time. Spivey would then function as support to the on-duty officer.
The motion on the proposal was not seconded.
Before presenting a motion on the proposal to reinstate Moser, Davidson read a letter from Municipal Judge Monica Sundhagen urging the commission to rehire Moser.
Sundhagen said she was not informed she was losing her clerk of court until just hours before court was held. Moser, Sundhagen said, played a “vital role” in supporting the judge in her duties.
Upon termination of her position, Moser was offered a dispatcher position at $19 per hour, which was $6 less per hour than she was making. Moser, who had about three years with the department, turned down the offer.
Davidson’s proposal would have reinstated her position at its pay of $25.47 per hour, and the city would apply to the county through its emergency sales tax fund to support the cost.
Salinas said only Stanley has a clerk paid as much, but for fewer hours than Moser.
Davidson made the motion for her proposal, but it also received no second.