Morenci city council: Police move was a rushed judgment 2009.06.10

When a Morenci city council member made the motion Monday night to allow the police department to move into the vacant TNG building—a structure at the back of Wakefield Park that’s been leased to small industries in recent years—it felt like we must have missed an important council meeting.

But that’s not the case. Someone from the Observer staff has been present at each one.

So how is it that six council members and the mayor were ready to vote on an issue of that importance, just like that, when the topic was introduced to the public for the first time?

The answer seems obvious: a lot of discussion is taking place at the committee level and never making it to the regular public forum.

Morenci doesn’t operate under the rules that regulate some government units in other areas. For example, there aren’t three readings of a proposal before a vote is taken as in Fayette. Here, it’s perfectly legal to introduce an issue and vote that same night, without any discussion at all.

We wonder what would have happened if a reporter hadn’t asked what the decision was all about. Would anything at all have been said, other than one council member’s explanation for his “no” vote?

Everyone at the council table appeared to be aware of the issue and everyone was ready to make a decision. Everyone except the public, that is. We almost feel the need to apologize for not attending all the committee meetings and study sessions, but we thought it was possible to keep the public informed by attending the regular council meetings.

Moving the police department is an issue that merits discussion. Police chief Larry Weeks describes the cramped conditions in the police office. He cites the lack of an interrogation room, of space to store evidence, of an area for officers to store gear, etc. Building inspector Kevin Arquette works out of a closet in city hall, large enough for only one person to walk in.

Discussion is also needed about the drawbacks. Is it good to place the police department in an out-of-the-way location, not as easily accessible by the public, particularly those who travel by foot? Is the city prepared to give up potential rental income of $24,000 a year?  What’s the cost of taking away a structure perfectly suited to attract a small business? By moving the recycling center to the new, not as convenient location, will there be an increase in heating costs?

These questions no longer matter. In the course of a few minutes, the decision was made.