SPJ Reader Question: How do we, the citizens, go about requesting that the Council and Commissioners conduct and evaluate (from an outside reputable source) to determine the costs, benefits and savings if we were to consolidate the two policing agencies?
SPJ Responds: We put your question to both County Administrator Bill Deist and City Manager Steve West. They replied as such.
Deist replied the request would have to be made at a joint meeting of the Commission and Council.
West replied that on two different occasions during the past 25 years the issue of consolidating the PD and SO were studied extensively by the County Commission and City Council jointly.
On both occasions, he said, the research indicated the savings would be only one – possibly two – administration positions.
After research on both occasions, the boards voted unanimously not to pursue the effort.
In addition to the cost savings, the two boards also looked at the potential problems that arose in different communities as a result of consolidation. He noted the City of Ely, as an example, has raised serious issues with the White Pine County Sheriff’s Office over cost and level of service.
West reiterated several issues raised by SPJ readers on the topic – including the philosophical debate about whether it’s best to have a chief law enforcement officer elected by popular vote, or a chief law enforcement officer who was chosen based on qualification and experience and who is answerable to an elected body for his/her actions.
Additionally, as was noted by SPJ readers, when county and city law enforcement agencies are combined, the (city) elected body loses control over its law enforcement agency. They must then pay for services they usually have no say in, but that’s true for the county as well who must pay for the service of the sheriff’s office and have no say in the level of service provided (because it’s a separate office with a sheriff who’s elected and not answerable to a board of elected officials).
While it has been some time since the city and county have considered this issue, Mr. West said he felt strongly the issues raised during the previous studies on the issue remain the same.
Readers, what say you?