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BE police question put on hold

By Staff | Aug 21, 2011

Many subscribers to the Register have been asking why there have been no more stories concerning the Blue Earth Police Department in the newspaper.

Some citizens have asked why there has not been a story about the decision of the Blue Earth City Council concerning the police.

Are they going to contract with the county sheriff? Or with Winnebago? Or keep their own department?

One person asked if he might have missed the story dealing with the final decision.

The answer is fairly simple. There has not been a final decision.

And, the reason for no recent stories in the Register concerning the police issue is that there has been no new update to report.

Surely, citizens ask, there has been discussion at the City Council meetings. Surely, they assume, the matter has been on the agenda.

Well, no, actually it has not been on the agenda or discussed.

At least, not discussed during the open public part of the meeting.

At every Blue Earth City Council meeting for the past several months, the council has closed the meeting for discussions with their city attorney of strategy for negotiations with the police union.

This is a perfectly legal reason to close the public meeting, by the way, so we don’t have an issue with that maneuver.

However, we find it puzzling that this police matter is dragging on and on – with really no end in sight.

Members of the council have indicated that they want to have a settlement with the police union in hand before they make a decision which of the three possible options to take – sheriff, Winnebago or keep their own department.

Obviously, this must be taking a while. I have heard from some sources that the negotiations are not going well.

In the past, the negotiations of the police union contract have lasted a long time and eventually gone to arbitration and mediation. Those actions take a lot of time to accomplish.

What is the hang up? With the discussions closed to the public, it is hard to say. While we would only be making assumptions in a large part, it is not too hard to make something of an educated guess.

Councilmen have indicated that they need to trim back on the department’s budget due to state cuts to the city. It is hard to trim the budget more than they already have, unless they get some types of concessions from the union.

One would assume that if they are unable to get these concessions then the city may look harder at the offer from the sheriff and from Winnebago.

Some have called this an attempt at union busting, that the city wants to get rid of the union. Others, including Mayor Rob Hammond, have said it is not, it is simply trying to trim back on the police department budget without getting rid of the union.

My own guess is that one issue could be health insurance. Police officers receive a better health insurance package than the rest of the city employees.

In fact, the city pays almost all of the officers’ health insurance premium each month. The police officers themselves each pay just over $5 a month for insurance.

Meanwhile, as the discussions drag on, the City Council’s decision is apparently on hold.

The city advertised for a new police chief. They have applicants and are proceeding with the process of narrowing the field and setting up interviews.

The question is, will a new chief be needed? Or, if he (or she) is hired, will it be a very short-lived employment if and when the city decides to contract with someone else?

Meanwhile, Sheriff Mike Gormley is the acting Blue Earth Police Chief.

According to both Gormley and City Administrator Kathy Bailey, this arrangement is working out just fine.

We are not sure everyone is in love with the deal, however.

And, Winnebago is just left twisting in the wind. Blue Earth received a proposal from Austin Bleess, the Winnebago city administrator, concerning Winnebago’s Police Department running the Blue Earth department. Since then the Winnebago council has received no answer from the Blue Earth council.

Because, there isn’t one. No discussion at the open part of the Blue Earth City Council meetings.

And no decision yet. According to City Attorney David Frundt, discussions with the union are continuing without an end in sight.

My guess? Don’t look for any story about a decision on the police department ‘situation’ any time soon. Perhaps not even this year.

But, when there is one, rest assured we will have it covered for you on the front page of the Register.