City council's support for police move softens 8.12.09

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

A motion was made and seconded to proceed with the next step in moving the Morenci Police Department to the vacant NWD building at the back of Wakefield Park, but the issue went no further.

As the Morenci city council meeting progressed Monday night, support for the move softened and the project now remains in limbo.

Council voted June 8 to approve the move and police chief Larry Weeks began some preliminary work at the site. But two weeks later, Morenci mayor Doug Erskin urged councilors to take the issue back to the committee level for additional consideration. Chief Weeks said he would halt work at the site until the matter was resolved.

Public Works committee chair Art Erbskorn reported Monday that following a fact-finding study, the committee decided to proceed with the police move and to also consider moving the recycling center to the NWD building.

A motion was made to hire Todd Dailey for site plan engineering at a cost of $2,600. This, Erbskorn said, would allow council to determine if the project was economically feasible.

“I’ve heard so much already about this and none of it was positive,” Mayor Erskin said. “I don’t want to do the move at all.”

He said he’s heard legitimate concerns from the public and from business owners.

Audience member Kent Deatrick said he was a council member when the decision was made to buy the NWD building as a place for a new industry to grow. However, he said if the move will save the community money, he would support it.

“That’s what we’re going to do with the site plan,” councilor Jason Cook said, “determine the costs.”

Council member Leasa Slocum added that money will have to be spent on renovation in the next few years anyway, and this might be the best way to handle the needs of the department.

Chief Weeks was asked to review the reasons for the move. He explained that economic factors have led to a department with more part-time officers than full-time, which makes the present office short on storage space for equipment and uniforms.

The building used for evidence storage is subject to temperature extremes and can damage materials. The area is also far from ideal for weapons storage.

State law requires a “clean room” for interviewing juveniles, free of distractions, Weeks said, and Morenci does not have that environment. He expects state regulations will be more strictly enforced in the next few years.

The existing office space at the NWD building would serve all the department’s needs, he said, and construction of a garage inside the back portion of the building would be used to store the two police cars.

Audience member Jan Sampson asked if the move was a want or a need. Weeks answered that he must be prepared for future changes.

“We have to address this issue sometime in the future,” he said, and he believes this is a more cost-effective approach than adding on to the existing police department.

Slocum said she wants to examine the costs and compare, and back off from the plan if it’s too expensive.

Councilor Keith Pennington said he was opposed to the move from the start—he had cast the only “no” vote—because he doesn’t like the location and he doesn’t want to give up the potential income from renting the building to a manufacturer.

“I do agree 100 percent that the police need more room,” he added.

Erbskorn said he was strongly supportive of the move initially, but now he’s moved to the center. He said he’s concerned about costs of the move in light of current economic conditions and also about the dislike of the plan from many citizens.

Weeks pointed out that council already approved the move and that he took the initiative to stop work out of respect for council’s decision to discuss it further.

Sampson said that council should have had the respect for citizens to inform them of the plan. This brought the discussion back to the June 8 meeting when council voted on the issue with no previous discussion at a council meeting.

“If you want us to be involved,” she said, “you need to let us know what there is to be involved in.”

After a discussion about what information Dailey’s engineering work would provide, Slocum announced her change of mind.

“I really would like to rescind my second on the motion,” she said. “I think there are other things to work out.”

No one else offered to second the motion and it died. The move to the new location is still approved, but advancing with engineering plans comes to a halt.

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