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Council OKs police contract

Thu., Nov. 5, 2009

Difficulty retaining qualified chief in Medical Lake prompts agreement

As of Sunday, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is in charge of police services in Medical Lake.

The City Council unanimously approved the contract in a special meeting Oct. 28. The city also released a list of answers to questions that had come up at the Oct. 20 meeting.

The first question was whether the city had involved the community enough before signing with the county. The city said it reviewed council meeting minutes going back to January 2008. This yearthe council discussed the issue twice in March, once in May, once in June and once in July. Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich also attended council meetings and answered questions from the council and residents in attendance.

Some at the Oct. 20 meeting also wondered whether the city had looked at all possible candidates for a new police chief.

The city said it had advertised twice in 2008 and received no acceptable candidates. The city’s statement also said it hired a professional consultant and received no applications through that avenue either. The city also hired an interim chief from Airway Heights. Less than a month later, the interim chief left for a new position in Spokane.

Residents also wanted to know why the city didn’t accept an offer from the Airway Heights Police Department. The city said it spoke with Airway Heights in January 2008 about this matter.

“At the urging of the Medical Lake police officers, the city began discussions with the county and found what would be offered to be more comprehensive and better suited to the needs of the Medical Lake community,” the statement said.

At the Oct. 28 meeting, Judy Abbott was among the residents who shared opinions of the contract. A resident of Medical Lake for 40 years, Abbott said that in the last 10 years every police chief looked at Medical Lake as a stepping stone to a larger community or was getting ready to retire in a quiet city.

Abbott hoped the city would approve the contract.

Resident and former council member Lahnie Henderson shared her view in a statement.

“During the last 10 years, the average tenure for a police chief in Medical Lake was 27 months,” she said. She added that while she was a member of the City Council, the city was determined to remain autonomous in providing services to its residents.

“Now, as the city continues to grow and bring new challenges, it is our opinion that we must look to the Spokane County Sheriff’s (Office) and join forces to further provide the necessary law enforcement services to better utilize our taxpayer dollars and share available resources,” she said.

Resident Eugene Haas was the only dissenting voice at the meeting. He worried that if a major catastrophe or terrorist attack hit the area, the Sheriff’s Office would be too busy to respond to anything in Medical Lake.

Councilwoman Brenda Redell asked Spokane County Undersheriff Jeff Towers to explain where the deputies would patrol, stating that some people hold a misconception that officers would only operate outside city limits.

Towers assured her that the deputies would be located in Medical Lake.

Councilman Jeff Paikuli asked whether the city’s volunteer reserve officers would still be needed once the Sheriff’s Office took over.

Towers said the Sheriff’s Office has a strong reserve program in many unincorporated areas and would be happy to take a look at the reserve officers.

By state law, the Sheriff’s Office must accept applications from the police officers who will be displaced by the agreement. Because of county budget shortfalls, the Sheriff’s Office had been considering eliminating 19 to 26 positions, but Towers said the county is receiving grant money that will change that number.

“As of today, the number of layoffs is one,” Towers told the council.

In fact, three of the city’s five former police officers were sworn in during a ceremony Friday after the contract was approved. Ian Hays, Nathan Bohanek and Christopher Johnson are now employees of the Sheriff’s Office.

The council unanimously voted to approve the contract. Councilman Howard Jorgenson was the only member of the council not in attendance at the special meeting.

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