The divisions among Morenci city council members was never more evident than at the committee of the whole meeting Monday night. The main source of contention—dating back to the days before the November election—remains the police department.
In our ignorance, we weren't aware of a similar division among community members. Apparently we were under the false impression that former chief Larry Weeks was a well-respected, effective department head who elevated Morenci's status in the area in numerous ways.
Since the election—and since Weeks's decision to find employment with another community before he lost his job here—we've learned otherwise. It's been said that he cost the city too much money, as though perhaps he should have refused to accept all of his salary and benefits. As a department head in charge of the police budget, Weeks was well aware of how much he cost the city due to his longevity as an employee, but why should this be criticism of him? If citizens believe city employees are paid too much, then changes need to be made in the pay scale. Pushing them out isn't the right solution.
Weeks was also criticized for looking at other employment opportunities over the years, facing the conundrum of criticism for staying and criticism for going. We’ve learned that his time spent at the FBI Academy was also a source of displeasure to many.
Mayor Bill Foster and councilor Ron Apger both made reference to the “embarrassment” of city council’s decision to make officer Ryan Hillard the interim chief. Their words echoed a recent letter to the editor that referred to the embarrassing and “amateur-hour circus” quality of council.
We aren’t seeing the embarrassment in promoting Hillard and we don’t think council should be so hard on itself. We have a new mayor for the first time in many years and two council members have very little experience in public service. Since November, two newly-elected members have had to leave office due to employment changes. In addition, a new city administrator is in place for the first time in 26 years. There are a lot of new faces at city hall finding their way amid many changes.
Council’s on-going challenge is to agree on a person to lead the police department. The mayor’s choice of Don Thompson is obviously not the choice of all council members and that should be apparent to Thompson’s supporters.
Council needs to continue examining alternatives to break through an impasse.