Mayor responds to survey on police contract

Posted 1/8/20

Belle Mayor Josh Seaver agreed to a video interview with Maries County Advocate staff to answer questions submitted via a Dec. 19 survey on the newspaper’s Facebook page, and private requests …

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Mayor responds to survey on police contract

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Belle Mayor Josh Seaver agreed to a video interview with Maries County Advocate staff to answer questions submitted via a Dec. 19 survey on the newspaper’s Facebook page, and private requests from individuals.

Questions stem from a Dec. 10 city meeting where the Belle Board of Aldermen tabled a decision to outsource Belle police services to The Maries County Sheriff’s Department. Many community members reached out with questions about the contract. The anonymous survey posted to The Advocate’s Facebook page allowed citizens to ask the aldermen, marshal and sheriff questions about the situation and contract.

Q: What started this conversation?

A: Initially this conversation started a year ago in 2018, shortly after the fair. One of our aldermen had been contemplating the budget problems and the crime problems from the years prior and spoke with Sheriff (Chris) Heitman about if he would be willing to provide the service for us. It got stopped then, and there was a huge outpouring on that. We stopped and didn’t talk about it.

The main reason I rallied against it then was because I wanted to see, during my administration, us try something different instead of the way things had been previously. I thought then, let’s give it a year-and-a-half or so and see if we can work something out.

In the meantime, we had another alderman come through. She used to be in law enforcement with the marshal, and to my knowledge, there was only ever one meeting to help work things through.

I have talked to him a few times about problems I seen that he could correct. In the meantime, I am still trying to fend off the council as far as things they were wanting to do.

What brought it back to light was the meeting three months ago and we had a room full of people, one of them said she was scared to sleep at night without a window open because there were things going on in the neighborhood. There were several people asking ‘what happened to our police coverage? You never see police officers driving through town.”

That’s what brought it back to the forefront, and for me, I really felt like I had already done all I could to help him (the marshal). I wasn’t going to fight against it this time if this is what the council feels is the best thing to do.

Q: When did the board of aldermen reach out to request a bid proposal to outsource the police services?

A: Initially it was done in August of last year and then when this all come back to light, he was contacted, maybe a month or two ago. (Heitman) had the initial proposal from a year ago and said he would honor that, and we could use it as a jumping off point to add or take away from to see if it was a viable option. Right now, we are still just talking about it. If we vote to pursue it, we still have the contract negotiation to go through, it doesn't just happen.

Q: If the city votes in this contract, there are a lot of citizens that feel (Marshal Joe Turnbough’s) job just goes away, which according to the contract, isn’t so. He is also an elected official. Will the marshal still be on the payroll?

A: Yes. They did vote maybe five years ago, there was a ballot issue to appoint the marshal that was voted down. He will still be on the payroll for the rest of his term and after. Yes. There will still be a marshal on the payroll.

Q: If the city were to change the marshal’s pay or duties, how would that take place?

A:It would have to be by ordinance.

Q: Why hasn’t the city implemented this contract already?

A: I think the board of aldermen realized we did have the meeting on Dec. 4 where people could come and talk and ask questions. The reason we did that was so (the aldermen) could think about it and hear what people’s opinions were. We go to Dec. 11, and I think they still had some questions and trepidation about making that decision. I don’t know. I can’t speak for each on individually.

Q: Why can’t the marshal be a hired position instead of outsourcing the police department? Why can’t the city hire someone with administrative knowledge?

A: That was part of the ballot issue four or five years ago. That has to be a vote and go before the people. Five or six years ago, that got shot down because people want to be able to choose who their marshal is.

Q: Is the marshal that bad at administration?

A: That’s kind of a tricky question to answer just for the fact of if you don’t know what all is involved with the administration of a police department or business, then you don’t know what you are looking for. I kind of feel like — yeah, I feel like he is. I feel like the paperwork and administrative work — I know what he hasn’t been doing and was pushed off on another officer. They were talking about bullet proof vests for a while, and someone put me on to a charity organization that would provide vests for them, but I could not be the one to apply to get those. It had to come from our marshal, being the administrator. It didn’t go anywhere. There’s been several things.

Q: What other options has the board tried to correct the budget/administrative problems?

A: I know before I took over they limited how much (the marshal) could spend. We have tried to talk to him.The one alderman, when she came in, her whole purpose was to help them go through their budget every month or every two weeks. Whatever they wanted. They had one meeting to look through their budget. I have tried to talk to Joe about what the council wanted to see out of him personally.

Q: What other options has the board considered aside from outsourcing the police department?

A: There has been talk of a sales tax dedicated for the police department. Sales taxes don’t have a real good history of passing around here. People don’t want to pay more taxes than what they are. As far as a dedicated tax just for police duties, that is not a short-term process. It could take up to a year.

Q: Who would be in charge of working towards a police department sales tax?

A: I know when the fire department ran their tax deal to be on their own, they did all their work. (The police department would have to do their promoting). I am not unwilling to help. I have walked around and knocked on every door in town before.

Q: If the city signs a two-year contract, will they consider implementing another plan so when the contract is over that they could save enough money to restart the local police department? For example, if the city saves their half of the fine revenue for six years, could they reopen the local police department?

A: Oh, absolutely. That would probably be the only viable option, and the best way to do that. Bank the money that you have got coming in and continue to fund what you are doing.

Q:About the police department’s equipment, the city has said before that if the contract went through, they would store the equipment they could, and sell or donate the rest, as the sheriff said he would purchase the new equipment. Would the new equipment belong to the city of Belle or the sheriff’s department?

A: That’s the sheriff’s equipment. If we go with this contract and two years later we are out of it, they are going to keep their equipment. That’s theirs.

Q: There are people who think that, due to the timeline of this decision, you should wait until after the April election to vote. Do you agree with that?

A: No, because you are going to be that far behind again. The budget is a huge component to this, the crime is a huge component to this. So why keep putting it off and spinning your wheels. If you wait until the April election, you have lost that many months.

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