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BE police chief issue needs fixing

By Staff | Nov 27, 2011

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is a familiar old adage.

What is inferred, but not stated, is a followup line which would read “If it is broke, get out the hammer and nails and do something about it.”

When it comes to the Blue Earth City Council and their handling of the police department, the second half of the saying is the one that needs to be followed.

Ever since the retirement of former police chief Dean Vereide last April, things have not been handled very smoothly, to say the least.

And, now that it is nearly December and the end of the year, there still is no replacement in the chief’s office in the Public Safety Building.

You can start to wonder if there ever will be.

After Vereide retired, the council seemed to be running in several different directions. They decided to take this time to explore whether they should keep a chief and their own police department, or contract the work out, or join with another department.

Exploring options seemed like a good idea at the time.

However, it became dragged out over months. And while the council is exploring these other options, the city was also advertising for a new chief and receiving applications for the job.

Applications which they did nothing with. No interviews, no contract, no decision.

The reason was two-fold. The council was deep into negotiations with the police union, and they were deep into discussions with the sheriff’s office and the city of Winnebago.

Months dragged by, with the council seeming to be unwilling to make a decision on the police issue.

Eventually the police union contract was settled – with no changes made to it. Eventually the council dropped talks with the sheriff and Winnebago.

Yet, still no real decision was made.

Until recently.

During budget talks for 2012, the council seemed to have decided to keep their own police department. And that triggered a new search for a replacement chief, now that his or her salary was officially being entered in the budget.

The council finally took a formal vote on keeping the department and hiring a chief; a vote which was divided 5-2. But at least there was a formal decision, albeit not unanimous.

However, there were comments after the vote which indicated some of the council members still favored continuing talks with the sheriff and Winnebago.

Since there had been a significant lapse in time since the position of chief had first been advertised as open, the city re-advertised it and received 14 applications.

An outside panel of area law enforcement personnel and the city administrator whittled the list down to five, interviewed four and then recommended that none of them be hired.

That announcement came at the end of the last City Council meeting.

The reaction from the council was a bit confusing. They did not question the recommendation, nor did they vote on accepting or rejecting it.

Instead, the council discussed the matter of having the county sheriff continue his work of doing some administration duties for the local department.

But what then? What happens next? How do we fix what is broken?

City Administrator Kathy Bailey made the comment that qualified persons for the job of Blue Earth’s police chief are not applying because of their concern about the future of the position.

We agree.

Why would someone come to Blue Earth for a job that might be only a ‘one year and done’ deal? The council had decided to hire a chief, but also indicated they were still interested in researching other options. Even with a new chief they will still talk with the sheriff and with Winnebago, they say.

Not exactly a vote of confidence.

Which brings up the other question. What now? Is the city going to quit looking for a chief? Or are they going to readvertise the position, look for other candidates who might be better qualified than the 14?

Perhaps the ad should state that the job is for more than a year. That might help.

Something is broken here, so drag out the hammer and nails and get it fixed.