September 4, 2008 in Voices

City renews push to study police

Council to vote in October on whether to fund review of Sheriff’s Office contract
By The Spokesman-Review

A proposed study of Spokane Valley’s contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office was resurrected from the dead and given new life during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The study proposal failed in July amid public outcry against a section of the study that would have looked at forming a new police department instead of contracting with the Sheriff’s Office. The proposal is back at the request of Councilwoman Diana Wilhite.

Retired deputy city manager Stan McNutt, who helped negotiate the original contract, facilitated the discussion Tuesday. He noted that Initiative 900 requires performance audits of all agencies and municipalities that receive state funds, and recommended that the city do the study to comply with the new rules. “A thorough law enforcement review is now due in the city,” McNutt said.

Councilman Steve Taylor pushed hard for the study to include an assessment of costs required to start up a new police department, which wasn’t explicitly stated in the material given to the council Tuesday. “Having all these alternatives in hand is in the best interest of the council,” he said. “If you have an alternative, you go into contract negotiations in a stronger position.”

The council favored adding to the study a review of the pluses and minuses of continuing the current contract, but rejected Taylor’s bid to specifically mention starting the city’s own department. Councilman Dick Denenny said a look at the pros and cons would include that aspect. “It’s going to give you data,” he said. “That’s all I want right now.”

Council members Rose Dempsey and Bill Gothmann continued to express concern about the need for a study and its expense. “I could’ve sworn we had a vote on this a few weeks ago,” Dempsey said.

In July, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich was not asked to speak to the council and said no one from the city approached him about the study. He was invited to speak on Tuesday, but was told the council didn’t have time for a presentation he had prepared.

Knezovich told the council that “if we had open dialogue on this issue” they would know that the Sheriff’s Office is already doing its own review of many of the issues brought up by the city, such as work schedules and community oriented policing.

Knezovich also expressed concern about repeated statements that the study would allow the city to negotiate from a position of strength. “That’s the kind of approach you use on a hostile entity, not a partner,” he said. “If you feel you need to do a study, by all means, and we’ll cooperate.”

The council will vote in October whether to spend the money for the study.

After the meeting, Knezovich expressed frustration at the lack of communication between his office and the city. He offered to go over questions with the council and the city manager and said the council’s questions could have been answered if the city had only asked. “They knew where they were going with this before I walked in the door,” he said. “No one has ever asked what we’re doing.”

Knezovich said he has sent letters to the city requesting contract negotiations before the contract expires on Dec. 31. The policing contract renews every year automatically if no changes are made by Dec. 1. “We haven’t had any meaningful conversations with them yet,” he said. “We’ve sent formal letters asking for that process. There are issues out there we need to address.”

On Wednesday City Manager Dave Mercier said the city did receive a letter from the sheriff requesting negotiations on July 16 and in response the city sent a letter to Marshall Farnell, chief executive officer for Spokane County. “I have not received a response from the county,” Mercier said.

Mercier also received a memo from Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick VanLeuven, sent at the request of the sheriff on Aug. 21, again asking for negotiations. Mercier said he replied to the memo on Tuesday.

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