Council member Rich Melton speaks to Gardner City Council on Jan. 3, 2016. Melton and the Police Advisory Board is recommending that the police chief no longer be required to report to the city administrator as has been the case since 1982. All department heads currently report to the city administrator. Melton stated that council always considers what other municipalities are doing, but this was an opportunity to do something unique. “Maybe one day, everybody turns around and says, ‘let’s be like Gardner’,” said Melton. Photo courtesy of Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
Gardner city council held its first meeting of the year on Jan. 3 and had a lengthy discussion about possibly changing the reporting structure for the police department. Council also discussed acceptance of the 2017 state legislative agenda and made advisory board appointments.
Police department reporting structure
Rich Melton, council member, gave a presentation regarding the reporting structure of the police chief. Currently Jim Pruetting, chief, reports to the city administrator, as required by ordinance.
Melton noted that the police, and all other departments, report to the city administrator as established by Ordinance No. 1481, which was enacted in 1982. Melton wants that to be changed.
Melton said part of the problem was that the governing body treats the police like any other department, but said they are not like other departments.
“This is the only department that works 24-7, 365. The needs of the department to operate in any weather conditions, during holidays, overnights, alone, shows why they need to be looked at differently,” said Melton.
Melton had three recommendations: the first was to move the police from under the city administrator to under the mayor. The second was to create a new group, including the mayor, a council member and a citizen, for the police chief to report to. The third idea is to have the chief report to the Citizens Police Advisory Committee (CPAC), of which Melton is chair.
“The best thing, I thought, would be to change the police advisory committee, where it’s more like the electric utility board, and have the chief report to them with what he needs, so it gets forwarded up to us,” said Melton. The electric utility board was dissolved by the current council and brought in house for reporting and budgetary review; it became the Utility Advisory Committee in 2016.
“In government, it seems that we sometimes seem to think that we want to follow in the footsteps of other municipalities, like ‘nobody ever does it that way’ or ‘everybody does it this way, and it makes me think back to the founding of our country with George Washington and the founding fathers,” he said.
Melton told council it could always be changed back if it didn’t work. “As leaders, someone has to be first, and I know that some will worry that ‘this might not work’ or ‘what will happen if…’, and the reality is, we as a governing body, or future governing bodies, have the option to change it if it doesn’t work,” he said.
Melton added, “We have the opportunity for everybody else to look at us and say ‘man look at what they did, they went out there and they did something unique,’ and maybe one day, everybody turns around and says ‘let’s be like Gardner.’ That’s what I’d like to see.”
Melton concluded his presentation with a quote from Benjamin Franklin.
Public comments were invited, and three individuals spoke.
First was Kacy Dale, CPAC member. She acknowledged that the committee had discussed the topic and in an informal poll voted unanimously that it was something that needed to be evaluated further.
According to minutes listed on the city’s website, no motion was made or approved regarding GPD’s reporting structure, nor did it appear as an agenda item on the CPAC. The committee’s last meeting was Sept. 20, 2016, regarding emergency preparedness, and those minutes are not posted. Subsequent meetings have been cancelled.
Also at the council meeting was Adam Cox, patron, who said he didn’t see any driver to do this. “Redrawing lines on an org chart isn’t going to address any support issues that you already have the responsibility to support and dedicate money too,” said Cox.
Jamie Anderson, patron, said that the police had to “fight tooth and nail to get the bare essentials.” She thought things would be “totally different” if a change was made.
Later in the meeting, Kristy Harrison, council member, referred to a chart that showed police expenditures since 2010.
According to the handout presented by Harrison, GPD salary budget has increased about $567,000 since 2011.
Pruetting was hired about two years ago, and his base salary is $101.900, according to city staff.
Also on Harrison’s budget handout, spending has increased in training, equipment, vehicles and uniforms since 2011. The department’s current budget is almost as much as it was before the city’s fire department became part of the fire district; with the fire department (Gardner Public Safety), the total budget in 2011 was $2,737,000, and without fire employees it now stands at $2,654,000.
Noting the consistency of increases throughout changes in the governing body, Harrison said, “there is a clear increase in everything regarding police spending.”
“To draw a conclusion that somehow the city administer, the reporting structure, is inhibiting spending, I would say is not factual,” Harrison said.
Alan Abramovitz, human resources manager, came to the podium and criticized Pruetting for forwarding internal staff communications.
Pruetting denied he had done anything inappropriate, saying he had only forwarded his own documents, but Abramovitz rejected the explanation.
Before leaving the podium Abramovitz turned to the department directors in attendance and said, “The trust – and I’m saying this to all the directors here – that you should have in your chief of police, because he has done this, should be greatly reduced.”
Regarding the suggestion of police reporting to the mayor and/or council members, Chris Morrow, mayor, remarked that he didn’t think any of them had the time, education or training to do the job. Morrow noted that the city administrator and the police chief are qualified, with both having 30 years of experience and training.
Morrow has invited three experts to offer their opinions in an upcoming work session. The speakers were originally set to speak at a November meeting, but that meeting was cancelled due to lack of quorum.
The topic will then be resumed in a subsequent council meeting, when council is expected to decide if any action should be proposed.
Pruetting reviewed complaints received by the police department during the last fourth of July holiday and shared results of an online survey regarding fireworks policy.
Staff recommended council adopt Ordinance No. 2540, which provides the city the flexibility to set the dates and times fireworks are allowed in city limits on an annual basis.
Council voted 5-0 to adopt the ordinance.
2017 State Legislative Agenda
Staff also recommended that council approve the State Legislative Agenda. Matt Wolff, management analyst, presented staff position to council.
Cities and counties review the state’s agenda then outline their own agenda platforms to assert common positions. Johnson County added six items to the state’s agenda.
Gardner city staff advised acceptance of all the items in the county agenda, and added three items.
The proposed agenda contained ten items. Item # 9, which states: “Gardner supports Medicaid expansion through KanCare,” was a problem for some council members.
Steve Shute, council president, commented that unless that section was removed he would not vote in favor.
“Anytime you get Medicaid money from the federal government there’s strings attached to it, and those strings bind the state to certain actions,” Shute said.
Lee Moore, council member, agreed and said he would like to strike item # 9.
Moore also commented on item # 10 which refers to “the State’s fledgling economy.” Moore noted that the state economy started in 1861 and could no longer be called ‘fledging’.”
The word ‘fledging’ was removed from item # 10, item # 9 was removed entirely, and then council approved the agenda with a unanimous ‘aye’ vote.
Commissioner-elect introduces himself
Johnson County Commissioner-elect Mike Brown introduced himself to council and gave each council member a card with his contact information.
“I want to help Gardner get things done, that Gardner needs to get done,“ said Brown. “ I’m here for you as a resource, an interface with the county, and to that extent anywhere that we can be beneficial. We want to help Gardner grow.”
Brown will be sworn into office on January 9.
Council approved 2017 renewal of a cereal malt beverage license for Gardner Golf Course.
Council approved 2017 massage establishment licenses for two massage therapy businesses located on Main Street.
Shawn Carlisle was reappointed to the Economic Development Advisory Committee with term expiring in December 2019.
Jeff Cordray was appointed to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee with term expiring in December 2019.
Council awarded a contract with Asplundh Tree Expert Company to provide service for the electric line tree trimming program.