Accountability, transparency, leadership would improve with added positions

Ellarry PrenticeFeatured News, St. JosephLeave a Comment

by Mike Knaak

The St. Joseph City Council is considering plans to increase accountability, transparency and leadership in two city departments.

During a work session July 27, Police Chief Dwight Pfannenstein told council members he wants to add a second sergeant to his department and Public Works Director Terry Thene proposed a supervisor.

In addition to better supervision of officers, Pfannenstein cited a continued increase in calls as a reason for restructuring his department. Calls for service jumped from about 2,500 in 2015 to about 4,000 projected by the end of this year. In the new structure, the two sergeants would report to the chief and each would be responsible for a team of officers. Right now the only sergeant regularly supervises one officer and fills an afternoon/evening patrol shift.

Mayor Rick Schultz and City Administrator Kris Ambuehl said they’ve received calls from the public asking if what happened in Minneapolis with the killing of George Floyd could happen in St. Joseph. Ambuehl said that a lack of a supervisor on that scene contributed to the death.

The additional sergeant would also supervise reserve officers, a program the chief said has “fallen by the wayside.” Pfannenstein’s goal is to recruit nine reserves who accompany officers on patrol and provide help with traffic and crowd control at special events. 

The city recently received a federal COPS grant to hire an additional officer. Promoting a patrol officer to sergeant would cost the city about $5,000 a year. With the new hire funded by the COPS grant, the department will have 10 full-time and one part-time officers.

Thene proposes a similar plan for Public Works. He said he’s nearing retirement and now would be a good time to appoint a supervisor to help handle projects and staff.

Ambuehl said it’s a good idea to start training a person who might replace Thene and to have a succession plan for the department. The increased pay to promote or to fill a vacant position as a supervisor would be about $7,000 per year.

The council plans to discuss both ideas at its 6 p.m. Aug. 3 meeting.

During the July 27 work session, council members heard updates on two other issues.

Finance Director Lori Bartlett has begun drafting the 2021 city budget. Her draft included the two proposed supervisor positions. The draft shows a 3.5 percent increase in general fund expenses bringing expenses to about $5 million. But the impact on individual property taxes won’t be known until assessed market values and the city’s taxable property base is calculated. City leaders are planning to adopt the preliminary budget in September.

The city is also moving ahead with plans to improve and repair the streetscape on the south side of Minnesota Street from Chapel Lane to First Avenue SE. Once bids are received and approved, some work could begin this summer with the goal of having the project completed before next year’s July Fourth celebration.

Author: Ellarry Prentice

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