By Nick Worth
Reacting to rumors about the disbanding of the Holbrook Police Department, an overflow crowd of concerned citizens jammed the city hall meeting room Monday night for a city council meeting held to approve the Holbrook property tax rate.
The crowd was too large for the meeting room, and people were standing inside and outside the door, where some had their car radios turned on to broadcast the meeting to those waiting outside.
City Manager Ray Alley started the meeting by speaking to the crowd and explaining that he was only investigating options when he spoke with Navajo County Sheriff KC Clark and to Holbrook Police Chief Mark Jackson about the possibility of the NCSO taking over Holbrook’s law enforcement duties.
Alley told the crowd the rumors that the police department would be gone in three months and that only eight HPD officers would be able to keep their jobs by switching to the NCSO were not true, and that it was concern for public safety which prompted him to investigate the idea in the first place, not concerns over money.
Following Alley’s remarks, Mayor Jeff Hill opened the floor for pubic comment. First to speak was Sylvia Jackson, wife of Police Chief Mark Jackson.
“We need a bigger force and we need to train our officers,” Jackson said. She said a Neighborhood Watch program might be one way the citizens of Holbrook could help out the department.
Next up to the podium was HPD Detective Sergeant Matthew Molique.
Addressing the council, Molique said there were 24 police officers when he started his law enforcement work in Holbrook 14 years ago and the number has dwindled to 15 on duty today.
“All but one of them live in the City of Holbrook,” Molique said. “We have a vested interest in the City of Holbrook. Each one of our officers knows what is needed to fix the police department.”
Molique then told the council better communication is needed with the department and citizens.
“We’re here to make Holbrook better, and the only way to do that is to talk to the officers and citizens,” Molique said. “I’d like to encourage the council to reach out to us in the police department and to the citizens.”
Following Molique’s comments, the audience began cheering, whistling and clapping, but the mayor used his gavel to bring order and warned the crowd that sort of behavior would not be tolerated, “especially the whistling,” he said.
“There may be people in here that do not share your opinions,” Hill said. “If it continues, I will have the room cleared.”
Next Melissa Buckley told the council and audience that two vehicles in her garage were ransacked, and her daughter’s vehicle was stolen and rolled onto the railroad tracks, where it was struck by a train.
“It was a traumatic thing for our family,” Buckley said. She said the HPD officers worked hard, but there were not enough of them.
“With all the criminal activity going on in our community, why hasn’t information been shared with the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office and MCAT (Major Crimes Apprehension Team)?” Buckley asked.
Mary Bradley was the next speaker to address the council. Bradley noted the HPD officers are the lowest paid police officers in the area. She said the town needs security cameras to monitor and bring down the crime rate, and that homeowners should start block watch programs and install alarms.
“We should not disband the police department,” Bradley said.
Leo Maestas next read the job description of a county sheriff from the Arizona constitution and told the council a chief of police is a mandated position.
“These are the things that happen when you allow people to micro-manage and undermine the department heads,” Maestas said, pointing at Alley and City Finance Director Randy Sullivan. “These people have undermined Chief Jackson’s credentials.
“We have people with weed eaters in their hands making $50,000 per year while those putting themselves in harm’s way are making the same as someone working at Carl’s Jr.,” Maestas added.
Joel Ruechel of the Navajo County Attorney’s Office told the council he has worked in law enforcement for 29 years, and he deals with the NCSO and HPD on a daily basis.
“You don’t have better services by diluting the police department,” Ruechel said. “Holbrook PD’s officers patrol inside the City of Holbrook. Sheriff’s office officers have responsibilities beyond the Holbrook city limits.”
Ruechel said the county attorney’s office has just charged an area man with theft for crimes committed last October.
“It takes months to gather evidence,” Ruechel said. “The officers here are working their tail ends off and working overtime.
“Please keep public safety in mind,” he added.
Tony Sutton, an HPD officer, spoke to the council and said the HPD needs to get away from being a reactive police force.
“We need more officers and we need help from the citizens of Holbrook,” Sutton said. “We need to go to community-based policing.
He said he and his fellow officers are concerned for the citizens of Holbrook.
“I stay up at night worrying,” Sutton said. “We are here for you, but we need your help.”
He added that when he testifies in court, he is “hammered” by defense attorneys on his training and qualifications.
“We can’t let our training go,” Sutton said.
Holbrook resident Eva Purvis addressed the council and, looking at Alley, asked, “Do the officers you want to force retirement on get a severance package? How many of you have ridden with a cop? I have.”
Alley and the council were not allowed by law to answer any questions asked during the call to the public, and Purvis was the last speaker to the council on the subject of the police department.
Maestas was next allowed to address the council on a separate matter. He first quoted the Bible, then again accused Alley and Sullivan of “undermining the credentials” of city department heads. He then accused Alley of breaking through a levy under the control of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and claimed to have proof of forged signatures on a public document.
In other action Aug. 19, the council:
* Approved the Holbrook primary property tax rate of 27.89 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
Hill noted there is no secondary property tax in Holbrook.
Alley added the property tax puts $52,000 into the city’s general fund, and that the rate is the same as last year’s rate.
* Heard from Maestas, who wanted to address an item on the agenda regarding an intergovernmental agreement with the NCSO regarding Byrne grant funding for fiscal year 2013-14.
The council then approved the agreement, which provides federal funds for training an HPD officer for MCAT.
* Approved the submission of an application and execution of an agreement for an Arizona Water Protection Fund (AWPF) grant for wetlands restoration at Hidden Cove.
Councilman Richard Peterson asked Sullivan about a clause in the grant stipulating the subject wetlands to be maintained for 20 years.
“Will that make it hard to change the sewer and waste water system, if we need to?” Peterson asked. He also expressed concern over water drawdowns for irrigation.
“It’s a balancing act,” Sullivan said. “It’s a three-year-grant and would be monitored twice per year for three years.”
He said the plant growth would be monitored and that the affected wetlands area is the area to the west of the existing pond, which is not being farmed.
“Twenty years concerns me,” Alley said. “There’s no way we can commit to 20 years. If we draw down for the golf course, sometimes we don’t have enough for Reidhead’s farming. There would be no wetland.”
Vice Mayor Charles Haussman asked how the AWPF defines a wetland.
“Even a natural wetland dries up in dry years,” said Haussman.
Councilman Phil Cobb then asked if Sullivan could find out more about what the AWPF says constitutes a wetland.
Alley noted that the action before the council was only to authorize Sullivan to apply for the grant and that the council would need to approve the grant if it were awarded.
Sullivan added that the definitions of what constitutes a wetland would be included in the grant, if it were awarded.
* Was introduced to Officer Stratton Hatch, a new Holbrook police officer.
Hatch told the council he grew up in Holbrook and looks forward to serving the community.
* Approved a proclamation naming Sept. 8-14 as Suicide Prevention Week.
The council also heard a presentation from Angie Molique about Suicide Prevention Awareness Week (SPAW). Molique told the council that on Saturday, Sept. 7, there will be a SPAW Walk in the Park at Gillespie Park in Holbrook, featuring information on suicide prevention and ways to get involved, as well as community activities. Vendor booths are free.
The event will also honor the memory of those who have taken their own lives.
In addition, Molique told the council all of the outpatient Community Counseling Centers in Navajo County will hold open houses on Sept. 10.
* Approved a proclamation naming Sept. 11-15 as Navajo County Fair Week.
* Approved claims payments.
* Approved claims payments for Walt’s Hardware totaling $1,765,71.
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By Nick Worth