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Rolfe dumps police chief job

Citing money, council vote is unanimous

December 14, 2012
By JOE SUTTER, lifestyle@messengernews.net , Messenger News

ROLFE - Citing finances, the Rolfe City Council voted unanimously Thursday to eliminate its one-man police force and instead rely on Pocahontas County sheriff's deputies to protect the community.

Police Chief Don Westering, who survived an attempt to oust him earlier this year, will work until his term expires in December 2013.

The council also unanimously chose to sell the Police Department's AR-15 rifle and its accessories.

Mayor Mike Hayek read the full resolution for the council and the people at the meeting. It states that Rolfe will proceed with alternate law enforcement, by agreement with the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department, for the town's contractual law enforcement. It will take effect when the police chief position becomes vacant, either at the expiration of the term or due to termination, resignation or otherwise.

At an Aug. 27 meeting, the council voted 4-1 to recommend that Westering be dismissed for misconduct after hearing testimony from citizens both for and against his dismissal.

Two weeks later Hayek announced he would not dismiss Westering.

At the meeting Thursday night, Hayek said he probably should take the matter into closed session, but he didn't. Instead, he said, "Flip the coin. If I fire Don this evening, there's a possible lawsuit, and then basically the money you're supposedly saving is not. Because it's happened in the past."

Councilwoman Lana Pratt said, "If there's a lawsuit that doesn't necessarily mean it's something that gets awarded. The court has to decide."

Hayek responded, "You and I know it will never go to court. The insurance company would settle."

Under Iowa law, the decision is ultimately up to the mayor. However, once the term expired, the mayor would need council approval to appoint or reappoint a police chief.

The issue has provoked high emotions in the past.

"I'm not going to accept any outbursts," Hayek said at the start of Thursday's meeting. "We've already dealt with most of this."

Pratt said the resolution was based on finances alone.

"This is no reflection on a current or past officer of the city of Rolfe," said Pratt. "This is strictly a financial, black and white thing to look at."

The budget for the Police Department has been rising every year, she said, while the city's population and source of income is declining.

In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the police budget was $68,455, according to data on the Iowa Department of Management web site. The current police budget is $70,900.

The council discussed whether contracting with the sheriff would be cost-effective, or if they could get law enforcement coverage without a contract, on a charge-per-call basis.

"We need to get current quotes from the Sheriff's Department before we decide where to go with this," said Councilman David Thoren. "Last time we got quotes I know they were steep, compared to what we pay."

Councilman Al Kutchenruther said the resolution doesn't tie the city down to a specific contract, it just says it will look for alternatives.

The question of ending the Police Department immediately was raised.

"Are you asking me to fire Don so that we can move on? Is that what you're asking me to do?" Hayek asked.

Pratt said she was asking Hayek to "reconsider your decision from a few months ago."

"I'm asking you to eliminate the Police Department as we currently know it, which I realize is Don," she said.

"I didn't even come prepared to even discuss that, I guess, or even think about it,' said Hayek, "so I'm not going to give an answer right at this particular time on that one."

 
 

 

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