Posted 7/26/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The Tioga Police Reserve Board officially dissolved Friday, due to controversies over the sale of a police dog and the lack of volunteers to oversee.
The decision was made at a special meeting that followed the board’s regular meeting two days prior.
Police Commissioner Tim Sundhagen, who does not sit on the board and had no vote in the matter, said he supports the decision.
The board also agreed to refund the full amount of a grant award for the dog from the Tioga Fund.
“We are now going to absorb this loss,” said Jeff Spivey, reserve board member.
At Wednesday’s regular meeting, the board voted to return the full sale price of a police dog that was purchased prior to the resignation of the officer who was to handle the animal, plus some remaining funds for the care of the animal.
That came to a total of $9,100, which is nearly $6,000 less than the award the board received from the Tioga Fund for the purchase of the dog.
“I will hand deliver the check to Mr. Grubb myself,” said Russ Papineau, president of the reserve board.
The reserve board paid Louisiana-based USK9 Unlimited $15,050 on April 4. The cost included the purchase price of the dog and training for the handler.
After the officer resigned from the police department, the reserve board had limited options to sell the dog, due to liability issues with an animal trained for narcotics detection and apprehension of suspects.
“You can’t just sell this kind of dog to anyone,” Spivey said at the special meeting on Friday.
The department did not have any officers who were certified in the handling of such an animal, and the city probably couldn’t afford to recruit one anytime soon.
The supplier offered to buy back the dog at $7,000 but refused to refund the training, which hadn’t been utilized. Spivey said the Reserve Board signed a contract, and USK9 Unlimited is under no legal obligation to refund money for unused training. The officer who resigned, Jackie Halonen, agreed to purchase the dog for $8,000 with her own money, and she would pay for travel expenses to the training.
Halonen is certified and experienced in K9 handling of a dual-purpose dog.
Who’s in charge?
Sundhagen tried to persuade the board at Wednesday’s meeting to refund the full grant award of $15,000, rather than just the $9,100. He said without the full refund, the controversy would continue.
Adam Fedler, reserve board member, said he hoped it would be enough to satisfy the complaints the board has received over the loss.
He and other members pointed out they had no way of knowing the city would be left without a qualified handler to train with the animal. So the loss really isn’t their fault.
The discussion over whether or not to refund the full amount of the award turned into a discussion over the autonomy of the police board.
Papineau said the board is answerable only to Police Chief Larry Maize and not the city commission.
“We’re not an entity of the city,” Papineau insisted.
Sundhagen countered, since Maize is answerable to the commission, the board is, by extension, overseen by the city commission.
Sundhagen also argued the reserve’s use of public funds made them accountable to the commission that manages that money, and being under the city’s liability insurance also granted the commission oversight of the reserve’s activities.
“I think we’re getting hung up on who’s in charge. Ultimately what I see is a collaboration,” Fedler said.
The meeting ended with the board intending to stick by the decision to refund $9,100.
Neil Rudnik, a community resource officer volunteer, approached the reserve board Wednesday to ask if he is allowed to volunteer his time to the city police department while the volunteers are on a board-ordered standdown.
The board wanted to continue the stand down until a list of conditions were met. Two conditions remained unfulfilled -- a restoration of funding the city had cut in the wake of falling tax revenues and the completion of a reserve officer manual.
Rudnik, who does not have all the qualifications of a reserve officer, asked if he could assist police in minor tasks, such as animal calls and mental health transports.
“It’s not a secret I want to get back to work,” he said.
Papineau did not like the idea of Rudnik going against the stand down and said he should honor it.
Maize said the need for volunteer support is invaluable to the police force and an exception should be made in Rudnik’s case.
The board ultimately agreed to allow Maize to utilize Rudnik’s support when the chief decided it is needed.
The debate initiated the discussion as to whether or not the board serves any purpose anymore.
Rudnik was the board’s last remaining volunteer, and he is not a full-fledged reserve officer. All the other volunteers have resigned.
Fedler asked why a board of four people is needed to oversee one volunteer.
“I question the sanity of that,” he said.
He said it is also unlikely they are going to be able to recruit any new volunteers with the stand down in place.
“People aren’t going to stand up to say, ‘I volunteer to not do anything,’” he said.
Maize said there is a chance the conditions to end the stand down would be met at some point in the future, and the police department could use the volunteer help.
As the controversy grew the following day, Spivey, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, requested Papineau call a special meeting on Friday.
At the special meeting, the board voted to refund the full $15,000 to the Tioga Fund and dissolve the board. The board also agreed to compile a list of its assets, advertise those assets for sale or auction and place the proceeds into the board’s general fund with profits to be donated to area scholarships to be determined later.
“The citizens are going to pay the price,” Maize said of the decision to end the reserve program.
Spivey and Papineau expressed anger over how the board and police department have been treated by the commission and residents who criticized the decision to sell the dog to Halonen.
“People don’t appreciate nothing . . . It’s disgusting and despicable,” Papineau said.
Spivey, who was laid off as police administrator in May, said the frustration over his termination pales in comparison to the sadness of dissolving the board.
“This pains me,” he said.
He estimated he put in 5,000 hours of volunteer time to the reserves and said he would no longer volunteer his time under the city’s current leadership.
Speaking after the meeting, Maize said he is in discussions with the city attorney as to whether or not he can utilize Rudnik’s offer of assistance.
He said at some point in the future, the board may be able to be reformed and the program resumed. Until then, the police may have to make do with the officers it currently has on staff.