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Mayor vetoes police resolution
March 03, 2011 Jerry Purvis    Photo by Jerry Purvis/Gering Citizen

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As far back as anyone can remember, a Gering mayor has never used the veto to reject an action of the city council – until Monday night.

As about 40 people watched from the gallery, council members addressed an item amended to the agenda by council member Joyce Hillman-Kortum. She wanted to further discuss what was labeled “option 3” from the proposed police merger that was rejected during a joint Gering-Scottsbluff city council meeting last week.

Option 3 would have established a 12-hour schedule for the police departments and reduced the combined staff to 43 sworn officers with one chief and two captains. That would require a staff reduction of four officers.

“I agree with the council that a merger of the two police departments wasn’t the answer,” Hillman-Kortum said. “I think both departments should look at option 3 as a starting point to see if there’s any way that we can work better together.”

She added that local municipal budgets would only continue to get tighter and overtime will be a challenge for the police department. One item she pointed out was the Nebraska Legislature’s intent to eliminate state aid to municipalities for this budget year. That would mean a $60,000 hit for Gering this year.

“I think it would be shameful to spend that much time and collect that much information to just say we aren’t going to do this in the future,” Hillman-Kortum said. “We have to be doing the best job we can do to keep offering services and to keep our prices under control.”

Mayo said that after the council rejected a formal merger proposal last week, he talked with Gering Police Chief Mel Griggs. The mayor asked Griggs to meet with Scottsbluff Police Chief Alex Moreno and County Sheriff Mark Overman to discuss ways to enhance existing inter-local agreements to see where improvements could be made.

Mayo also said he met with the county communications center and was told a combined department, whether formal or not, would result in a sharp increase for the cost of services. “I still think the best option is continuing to pursue avenues under the existing inter-local agreement and not tying our hands with option 3.”

Gering businessman and former police officer Kent Ewing agreed the city should continue enhancing its inter-local agreements with Scottsbluff, but emphasized efforts in other areas. “If we put as much effort into bringing new, taxpaying businesses to town as we have with the police merger, our budget crunch would be less of an issue,” he said.

Chief Griggs told the council he would be happy to report to them in a few months on progress the departments are making. “That would enhance our commitment that we’re serious about getting something done.”

Council member Jill McFarland said it shouldn’t take a formal action of the council to tell the police how to do their job. “I’m confident you’ll continue working together. But option 3 is way too specific. We’re basically giving you the goal before you start the process. The council is a policy maker. I see no reason for us to direct staff to perform specific duties.”

When a possible merger was first being discussed, the council tasked the police department to look into updating its city ordinances to parallel those in Scottsbluff. Hillman-Kortum asked Griggs about that progress.

“That didn’t work,” Griggs told the council. “We’ve made some progress, but in other areas, we just see things differently than in Scottsbluff. One of the biggest is the ordinance regarding disturbance of the peace. Scottsbluff’s is more restrictive than ours. And some of our ordinances would never be supported in Scottsbluff.”

Hillman-Kortum made a motion for council to show support toward an “inter-local agency agreement” and to continue the dialogue on how option 3 can be incorporated into police operations. It also called for regular updates from Chief Griggs.

“I think we’re trying way too hard to keep this discussion alive,” McFarland said. “Let’s back off, let the police chiefs and the sheriff move forward, report back to us, and let’s see what they come up with.”

Some audience members said an “inter-local agency agreement” was very different from what was passed the previous Thursday at the joint council meeting. It had the overtone the council was still trying to pursue a merger.

Hillman-Kortum’s motion was seconded by council member Dan Smith. The vote was 5-2 in favor with members Larry Gibbs and Jill McFarland voting no.

“The only reason I voted no was because we’ve already done this with last week’s meeting,” Gibbs said.

McFarland agreed, saying the motion amounted to micro-management of the police department.

“Based on the wording and verbiage of the agreement just passed, I’m vetoing this vote as mayor of the council,” Mayo said. “We’re falling back on the vote we took last week.”

Mayoral vetoes are allowed under state statute and must be overridden by two-thirds of the council. Because council member Rebecca Shields was absent, it would have required six votes, so there was no effort to override Mayo’s decision.
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