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BE hears citizens police concerns

By Staff | Jun 19, 2011

A handful of citizens let the Blue Earth City Council know that they thought contracting out the police department work to another agency would be a bad idea.

The comments consumed the first half of an hour and a half special meeting held last Monday.

After the citizens had their turn to comment, the council itself discussed the issue. They did not, however, make any decision on the matter.

At issue is whether the city should keep operating its own police department, or have another entity – such as the county sheriff’s department or the city of Winnebago – run it.

With Winnebago city officials Austin Bleess (city administrator), Bob Toland (police chief) and Scott Robertson (council member) in attendance, the public expressed many concerns.

“How can they (Winnebago) run our police department for so much less,” Mike Enger asks. “Their administrator is quoted in the papers as saying they will be making a profit on the deal. How can they do it and we can’t?”

Enger cited a loss of control of the police department as another concern.

“Why have you not even looked at ways to reduce costs and keep our own department,” he asked council members. “Why are you looking elsewhere first?”

Enger took a nail from his pocket and put it on the council table.

“This is just one more nail in our coffin,” he says. “How are we supposed to respond when a potential business asks about the police department – that we can’t afford one so we hire it out?”

Other concerns included whether the current police officers would be guaranteed their jobs.

“If they work for either the sheriff or the Winnebago department, would they receive the same pay as they do now?” Bonnie Gartzke asked.

Mayor Rob Hammond responded they did not know the answer for sure, but he thought that in both cases the current officers would receive a cut in pay.

There was also discussion on forming a new ‘police commission,’ composed of two council members from both Winnebago and Blue Earth, as well as city administrators.

Blue Earth city councilman Glenn Gaylord admitted the situation is not ideal.

“We are in a tough spot,” he said. “We look like the bad guys.”

Gaylord says he was impressed with Winnebago’s plan and said he thought it was time to look for ways to work together.

“We can show the rest of the county that we (Blue Earth and Winnebago) can work together in this terrible situation we are in,” Gaylord said. “I think this could work well.”

Councilman John Gartzke says he thinks changes will be coming to all the towns in the county.

“I can see that down the road the county (sheriff) will probably take over all county law enforcement,” Gartzke says.

He also pointed out that the current police budget is $525,000 in Blue Earth.

“By going with Winnebago’s plan, we would save over $70,000,” he says. “That is nearly half what our LGA is expected to be cut later this year.”

Mayor Hammond pointed out that no decision had yet been made, nor would be made that evening.

“Whatever we do, the devil is going to be in the agreement,” he says.

One last issue that came up was the possible retirement of Winnebago Police Chief Toland in the near future, and its effect on the contract.

“To be honest, I have looked at my retirement options,” Toland, who is 56 years old, told the council members. “But, I would promise to stay around long enough to get this venture up and running smoothly. I would not leave you in the lurch.”