Council covers several police related issues in lengthy meeting

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by A.C. Hall

In a lengthy meeting Tuesday night, the White Settlement City Council discussed several items related to the White Settlement Police Department.  First was an ordinance that would change the number of Lieutenants the department maintains from two to one.  With the new Police Chief J.P. Bevering moving out of the Lieutenant rank, both the new chief and City Manager Jim Ryan agreed that the department could get by with just one Lieutenant from now on.  
“It was our decision that we could combine those accessory duties that the support Lieutenant held and distribute those among the other command staff leaders without increasing their work load too much,” Chief Bevering said.  “It’s really not that imperative to have five command staff when it can be handled by four.”
Ryan gave some background on this item, saying the reason the department has two Lieutenant positions is because an old Police Chief was demoted and the second Lieutenant spot was created for him.
Mayor Ron White expressed concern that this move would lower the amount of patrol officers working in the city.  He was told by Chief Bevering that this change only affects the command staff, not the patrol officers.
Council member Mike Arnold commented on this item, saying this is a practice the city has used for some time as they try to combine positions and share duties when someone leaves or is promoted.
“Doing it this way for a while will save us quite a bit of money,” Arnold said.
A motion to approve this change from two Lieutenants to one passed unanimously.
The Chief of Police approval process was discussed next.  This position is filled by the City Manager, but a requirement was put into place several years ago for the new appointee to get confirmed by the City Council.  Ryan spoke strongly about this issue, saying that among other things the council confirmation process conflicts with the city charter.
“No chief ever in the history, except for Chief Bevering, has ever been confirmed in this manner.  It politicizes the Police Chief’s job to a point where he could feel like he works directly for the council and that’s not our form of government,” Ryan said.
Mayor White stated that he researched this issue and found other cities who had a similar confirmation process.  He stated he doesn’t have an issue with the council confirmation requirement and wants it to remain in place.
“I don’t see that the city council confirming the chief of police is a conflict of interest or a conflict with the charter,” Mayor White said.
One citizen commented on this item and voiced their agreement with Mayor White, saying they believe council should have some input in the appointment of a Police Chief.
Every member of the council got involved in this discussion.  Elzie Clements spoke about the high profile nature of the position, saying it might not be bad to have council and possibly even citizen input on who gets hired.  Arnold spoke about the possibility of a potential Police Chief trying to use political influence to get council members to appoint him or her.  Paul Moore echoed some of Ryan’s comments, saying he could see how the confirmation process might make a police chief feel as if they work for the council instead of for the city manager.  Steve Ott mentioned that other high profile positions like Finance Director and Fire Chief don’t require council approval.
Council member Danny Anderson spoke strongly against the confirmation process, saying  the police chief position has to have a boss like the City Manager above them.  He stated that if citizens have a problem with the police chief, there are complaint systems in place for them to express that.
“I think we need to stay out of this and do away with this ordinance,” Anderson said.
Mayor White and Clements continued to speak about the lack of involvement council has, saying they have no means of getting to know police chief candidates or the goals they might have.  Anderson and Ott stated that it’s the City Manager’s job to handle those things.
“This is a personnel issue, and all personnel issues fall under the City Manager,” Jim Ryan said.
A motion was made to remove the requirement for council confirmation of the police chief position.  That motion passed unanimously.
Police Chief Bevering addressed the council on a separate item regarding the city’s canine unit.
“It’s my belief that the canine program has not best served the police department or the citizens,” Chief Bevering told the council.  “The dog has only been used at most once per month or sometimes twice a month.”
In addition to saying he doesn’t believe this to be a cost effective program, Chief Bevering also referenced a recent court ruling that limits the use of canine units.  Vehicles stopped for a traffic stop can no longer be held while a canine unit is brought out to sniff for illegal substances.  Bevering said this has diminished the usefulness of the units.
A search was conducted for any departments or entities that had need of a trained canine unit.  While many surrounding departments were too small to handle the cost of a canine unit, Bevering said the Dallas County Independent School District Police Department expressed a need for another dog.   He recommended donating the dog to them.
“Dallas is not a foreign country, it’s relatively close,” Jim Ryan joked.
A motion was made to approve the donation.  That motion passed unanimously.  Representatives of the DCISDPD were on hand and expressed their thanks, saying that any time the WSPD had need of a canine unit they would make one available to them.
One final police related issue discussed was the use of WSPD officers as crossing guards for the White Settlement Independent School District.  Assistant City Manager Jeff James presented this item, informing the council that the city trains, hires, and funds the crossing guards for WSISD schools that fall within city limits.
“It is something we are required to do as a municipality,” James said.
The aspect of this that staff was concerned over is what happens when a crossing guard calls in sick.  When this happens, WSPD officers are required to cover the shift.
“It does become somewhat of a problem,” James said.
He went on to give a scenario as to what could happen if multiple crossing guards missed a shift.
“We could be in a situation where we have two police officers watching school crossing areas and we have only one police officer on the street actually doing any type of patrol,” James said.
He went on to suggest that an easy fix would be for WSISD to have members of each campus trained to come out and handle crossing guard duties if needed.  James told council he’s had informal conversations with the school district about this issue but was seeking direction to have more concrete meetings with them.
City Manager Ryan also commented on this issue, saying they’re looking to get help from the WSISD.  He spoke about the minimal financial impact this program has on the city, highlighting the real issue.
“It’s not the money,” Ryan said.  “It’s the depletion of our relatively small police force.”
Council member Paul Moore addressed this issue next, questioning why the WSISD officers don’t handle crossing guard duties.
“They have their own officers.  Why should we pull one of our officers off the street?” Moore asked.
Council directed staff to set up a meeting between members of the WSISD and the City to discuss this issue.  That motion passed unanimously.
Council gave unanimous final approval for two new bonds.  The first was a previously discussed certificate of obligation for $10.1 million.  Finance Director Phil Bray spoke about the uses for this money, saying it can be used over the next five years for infrastructure, projects, and other capital improvements.  A financial representative who helped with the bond process said the City got favorable rates on the bond and that this was a good time to hit the market.
The second bond approved was a $3.6 million refunding bond.  This was described as a refinancing bond that will refinance some of the city’s outstanding debt at a lower interest rate.
One item not included was the new fire truck the city is purchasing through a lease to purchase agreement.  The Texas Attorney General requested some wording changes in order for the fire truck refinancing to be approved.  The company handling the lease agreement with the city was not comfortable with those changes, forcing the city to find a new path towards refinancing this particular item.
“It’s still going to work, just differently,” Bray said.
This item was removed from the agenda while the new refinancing plan is put into place.

Much more was discussed at this lengthy meeting so be sure to check back next week for the second half of our coverage