Imagine the job interview of your nightmares: the people that are debating hiring you sit in front, your current boss sits in behind, your past and future clients sit there beside you and the guy you might replace (who’s a fraternal brother) is there as well; and they all get a chance to talk.
This was the scene Tuesday night as Yellow Medicine County Sheriff Bill Flaten met publicly, for the first time, with the Clarkfield City Council as they gather information for a possible switch to contracting for police services with the YMC Sheriff; a move that would mean disbanding the Clarkfield Police Department.
Tuesday’s meeting was the most publicly attended meeting the Clarkfield Council has held in several years. The specially scheduled meeting was meant to be information only with the council and citizens preparing questions for Sheriff Flaten.
Roughly eight people outside the council attended the meeting. Among them, and setting the nightmare interview scenario, were Clarkfield Police Chief Ian Hodge, YMC Commissioner Gary Johnson, former Clarkfield mayors Dan Jahn and Jeff Randall and Clarkfield Public Works Director Jeff Lobdell.
The meeting opened with Flaten answering roughly 25 questions that City Administrator Scott Weske had prepared with council and public input.
Through those questions, Flaten reiterated what the county was prepared to do if the city contracts with them for police services: the YMCSD would locate an officer in the city; furnishing him with a car that would be specifically used in the city, that officer would handle city ordinances and work out of an office in Clarkfield and that officer would answer to Flaten with Flaten ultimately answering to the council.
Through the course of questioning, Flaten provided those attending the meeting with a rough estimate on what it would cost to hire and maintain a Sheriff Deputy in Clarkfield. In his proposal, Flaten estimates that the cost of the contract would be roughly $96,556. Flaten stated that he felt this estimate is intentionally on the high side.
For comparison, the Clarkfield Police Department budget for 2013 is estimated at $118,000. Yet, when revenues are subtracted, that amount would be closer $104,500.
Clarkfield Police Chief Ian Hodge, who is now watching his job be debated for the third time in roughly five years. commented after the meeting saying, “The debates is simply whether you want your own police force, or do you want the county? There are definitely some tangible benefits to keeping your police force and some ones that are harder to measure. I’m afraid if you go with the county you might lose that personal touch.”
Hodge said he doesn’t look at these recent debates on contracting for police services as a personal attack against him, but did acknowledge the difficult position it puts him in. “We work in the public eye, that’s for sure. I have no animosity toward Sheriff Flaten. We’ve worked together well, I’ve helped him and he’s helped me. I thought he represented his side well and that’s all there is to it. Yes, it’s difficult to discuss and obviously, in this case, I’m biased.”
Page 2 of 2 - Hodge seemed heartened by the public interest displayed Tuesday night.
Said former mayor Jeff Randall addressing the council, “We’re putting a lot of faith in you guys. I don’t envy your decision. I just want to say publicly that this is a big deal.”
Dan Jahn, another former mayor, detailed his experiences when this question was raised while he was on the council. He said the council went through this in 1999, but he doesn’t believe that history applies in this case. “It’s like comparing apples and oranges,” said Jahn. “It’s a different council, a different Sheriff and a different time.”
It’s expected that the council may vote on the issue before the end of February. Yet, the amount of time it might take to finalize a contract, have that approved by the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners and switch services is unknown.
The council urged the community and those in attendance Tuesday night to make their feelings on the issue known.
Said councilman Neil Linscheid, “If there are people out there you think feel strongly about this issue contact city hall, or call me, Dave (Biermaier), the Mayor. Any input we get is needed.”