Since the recent resignations of two Stevensville Police officers, the department is currently operating with only a single employee, Chief James Marble himself. At the June 11th Town Council meeting, it was decided to look into the possibility of contracting with the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement in town as an alternative to funding a municipal police force.
Council President Bob Michalson, who placed the issue on the agenda, said, “We can sugar coat it all we want, but this is a revolving door police department since I first came here 13 years ago.” He said new people are hired, trained and schooled and then within a short time take a job with Missoula or Ravalli Counties, where salaries are higher.
“I’m not saying that the Police Department has to go,” said Michalson, “just that we should look at other options.”
Councilperson Ray Smith agreed, adding that in his opinion there is “a confidence problem at the top… I have a loss of confidence in our Chief now.”
Chief Marble said, “After all the blood, sweat and tears I’ve put into this place, to say that there is a confidence issue is a slap in the face.” He said that he was not responsible for hiring and that the Police Commission makes the first recommendation and submits it to the Mayor. After that he gets involved doing background checks.
“To say there is a confidence issue because a person’s choice that occurred off-duty somehow reflects on me is offensive. It boggles my mind. I really don’t know what to say. I’m dumbfounded by that comment.” One officer who just resigned had a previous DUI conviction while not on duty and the other resigned after coming under investigation on criminal charges unrelated to his job as School Resource Officer.
Marble went on to say that in his opinion, “to really put this issue to rest we need to go down and have a conversation with the Sheriff.” He said once the information is obtained the public needs to weigh in.
“We need to listen to everybody, not just one person’s opinion, Mr. Smith,” said Marble. He said with the right process, and by including the public, the manpower issues could be addressed.
Some members of the public commented on the issue.
One person said that if the Town can’t keep good quality police officers because they don’t get paid enough it is not the Chief’s fault. He said a local police officer is invested in the community, while to a County Deputy it is “just a beat.”
Another person pointed out that the Town already gets support from the County Sheriff’s Office because they are understaffed.
“How about looking at the option of a fully funded Police Department?” she said.
The motion was to have the Mayor, Councilperson Ray Smith and Police Chief Marble initiate a conversation with the Sheriff about the issue.
The motion was passed on a 2 to 1 vote. Smith abstained from voting. Councilors Michalson and Stacie Barker voted in favor and Councilor Robin Holcomb cast the dissenting vote.
In other business, Michalson accused the Park Board of violating the state’s open meeting law when they produced and submitted a letter to the council without including Stacie Barker, the Council representative on the Park Board.
“We are not here to get rid of them,” he said, “but we are here as a council to say this can’t fly. It can’t go and we won’t let it happen again. This is your one chance to do it right and if you want to have a meeting, let Stacie know and let the Mayor know and we will schedule one.” He said if it happens again, “something will happen.”
Both Barker and Loey Knapp, who serves on the Park Board, said that the issue was addressed at the last Park Board meeting and Barker and the board had clarified a few things about the board’s process and were ready to mend affairs and begin moving forward again.
A member of the public recalled that when the Airport Board committed a similar offense, the Council asked all those board members to resign. He thought the same thing should happen here.
Mayor Brandon Dewey said he thought the administration could do a better job educating all the boards about their responsibilities and procedures related to the open meeting law.
In that regard, he said, “It was not long ago three members of this Council filed a complaint against me with the City Attorney.” He said he thought that constituted a quorum.
“So, if you are going to take any reprimand action against the park board, I suggest you take that same action against yourself,” he said.
The Council took no action on the issue.
In other business, the Council approved selling surplus extraction equipment and accessories to the Gold Creek Fire Department for $1. The Council was split on the issue and Mayor Dewey broke the tie in favor of disposing of the equipment.
The Council voted unanimously to begin offering a fingerprint service for a fee of $20. Missoula offers the service for $15 and Hamilton charges $25.
The Council also approved an agreement with the American Water Works Association that would enable future grant requests for public works projects.