By Nick Worth
More than 30 Holbrook citizens filled the city council chambers Sept. 4 to attend a council work session regarding the proposal to disband the Holbrook Police Department and have the Navajo County Sheriff’s Department take over law enforcement for the city.
Mayor Jeff Hill announced to the crown before the meeting started that since it was only a work session, there was no provision on the agenda for public comment. The majority of the crowd stayed put, though.
Hill opened the meeting by summarizing some of his concerns and thoughts on the issue. Hill said he had talked to several citizens since the last council meeting, where several people expressed opinions on the matter during a call to the public.
“One common theme I seem to be hearing is a reduction in service,” Hill said. “Nowhere have I heard, from Manager (Ray) Alley, Chief (Mark) Jackson or anybody any mention of a reduction in service.
“Manager Alley was looking into options. That’s his job,” said Hill.
Hill then told the assembly he is concerned over some expenses coming up for the city in the future.
“We held a bond issue for the sewer treatment plant that added a one-cent sales tax,” Hill said. “That one-cent tax has added about $500,000 per year to the city’s budget.”
Hill said the tax would go away once the sewer treatment plant is paid off in a few years and the city will no longer have that money in the budget. Hill also mentioned that the city would have to start paying the full fees for jail services starting next year.
He then addressed the concerns he has been hearing from citizens about how the county sheriff would staff deputies to cover the city’s law enforcement needs.
“What would the county do?” Hill asked. “I don’t know. Would it be one man for 30 miles, or 10 men in town?
“It’s all just speculation and rumor,” Hill said. “I’m interested in providing the best service, but there are some real constraints we have to operate under.”
Councilman Myron Maxwell then spoke about some needs of the city and the police department.
“The community wants a continuation of the police department,” Maxwell said. “We need to progress in several areas.”
Maxwell said the HPD needs accountability.
“I hope we can pass a resolution that instead of giving it away, we bite the bullet and improve it,” he said. He added that the city needs to look at salaries, training and the jobs at the police department.
“When Ray took over, we were literally insolvent,” said Councilman Wade Carlisle. “Now we’re solvent.”
Carlisle went on to praise Alley’s performance as city manager, acknowledging that Alley is a tough manager.
“We get a lot more out of our people than we did before,” Carlisle said. “Ray gets stuff done.”
Carlisle next addressed the police department.
“We haven’t had a report from a chief since (former police chief DWayne) Hartup,” Carlisle said. He said Hartup gave monthly reports to the council of what had been accomplished by the police force.
Carlisle then questioned a statement made by a police officer at the last council meeting in which the officer said on each shift he had to fill out 15 reports that took 15 minutes each to complete.
“That’s 3.75 hours,” said Carlisle. “I question that.”
Carlisle went on to note that inexpensive training is available for the police department, and finished his statement by calling for a task force to be formed to establish guidelines for what the council expects of the police chief and the police department.
“I would suggest the task force be made up of one or two citizens, some councilmen, Jackson and Alley.
“I want solid guidelines in writing of what we expect,” Carlisle said, adding, “I do think the city manager should run the police department.
“I’d like to see us (the council) get more involved,” said Carlisle.
Councilman Phil Cobb then indicated Maxwell at the far end of the council bench.
“At one end we have hip-hip-hooray and at the other end a pragmatic,” Cobb said, indicating Carlisle. “The answer is somewhere in the middle. The problem is not as big as we’ve imagined. We just need a lot more communication.”
“I stand behind the PD,” said Councilman Bobby Tyler. “We need to work on the budget. We need to keep the PD together.”
Councilman Richard Peterson agreed with Carlisle and suggested a task force be put together to investigate what needs to be done with the department.
“The police department has been there every time we’ve needed them,” said Vice Mayor Charles Haussman. “I don’t want to lose the police department.”
He also noted that he has been “somewhat complacent when it comes to the needs of the police department.”
“I want to ask the chief and the city manager, are there organizations that come in and do evaluations of police departments?” Haussman asked. “Would an external assessment by an unbiased group to advise the council and the police department be good?”
He added that there is always the possibility of “reallocation of resources in future budgets” to address the needs of the department for higher salaries, and suggested retention bonuses as a possibility for keeping officers on the HPD force.
“I have complete confidence in the city manager and in Chief Jackson, but as Vice Mayor Haussman said, having someone else come in and look at it would be a good idea,” said Maxwell.
Hill told Jackson and Alley he also has confidence in them.
“I won’t say there aren’t problems, but I know you can fix it,” he said.
Maxwell said he didn’t think the council needed to bring in people to tell them what to do.
“We have professionals who know what to do,” said Maxwell.
Alley then addressed the council and the public.
“The PD isn’t broken,” said Alley. He said the council and city staff have always been supportive of the police department, and praised the professionalism of the department.
“I had concerns over the rash of burglaries that led me to explore other options,” Alley said. “I’m not paid to be a nice guy. I’m paid to check into all options.
“I don’t think combining the department at this time is a good solution,” Alley said. “It’s not an effective answer. I don’t have any facts, or know if the county would even do it.
Alley then repeated that the police department is not broken.
“I’m just trying to make it better,” he said. “I’m concerned with the future growth of the city.”
He ended his remarks by expressing confidence in Jackson and told the council there is a need for regular reports from all the city departments.
Jackson then told the gathering that his officers work hard and that they do attend training.
“We send officers to training for $2,000 and when that $2,000 is reimbursed, it goes into the general fund and we don’t see it,” he said.
Jackson then spoke about the recent burglaries and told the council those types of cases are very hard to solve. He also expressed the need for citizen support and said some people told him they knew who performed the burglaries, but they are not willing to testify about what they know.
Speaking to the attrition among HPD officers, Jackson pointed out there is attrition in every law enforcement agency in the state.
“And Hartup was not the last chief to give you a report,” Jackson said. “I gave you reports, but I stopped. I’ll start again.
“For people to sit here and bash the PD, it’s wrong,” Jackson said. “These guys are out there busting their butts.
“We’ll continue serving the people of Holbrook,” he said.
“The purpose tonight was to convey to the police department and the public that we’re not going to dismantle the police department,” said Maxwell.
After several suggestions and several changes to the wording, the council moved to adopt a resolution with the following conditions:
* Alley and Jackson will establish parameters for the task force to include internal and external people to conduct a needs assessment and make recommendations.
* The task force will support the Holbrook Police Department and not consider disbanding it.
Hill ended the meeting by again cautioning the council about the city’s money situation.
“We don’t have money to throw at problems,” Hill said. “When that tax goes away it’s going to be an 800-pound gorilla, but there are solutions that are possible.”
Alley and Jackson will have their recommendations for the task force ready to be presented to the council for approval at the regular council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 24.
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By Nick Worth