Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New top cop in Ketchum

McNeil retires early from head of KPD

Express Staff Writer

Sgt. Dave Kassner took over as acting chief of the Ketchum Police Department on Friday. Kassner will replace Mike McNeil who arranged an early retirement with full benefits, a move that will save the city $42,000. Photo by Trevor Schubert

After taking over the top position in the Ketchum Police Department last October, Mike McNeil has negotiated an early retirement with the city. Longtime officer Sgt. Dave Kassner was tapped by Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall to take over as chief in the interim.

At a City Council meeting Monday, Ketchum City Manager Gary Marks said McNeil had 16 months remaining until he was eligible to retire with full benefits. Police and many other public employees are eligible when their age and years of service total 80 years.

Marks said that with this agreement, the city will save $42,000 on salary and insurance payments.

"It's a win-win situation," Hall said in an interview. "Mike was set to retire in 16 months and there was no guarantee that he would end up as chief."

McNeil, a 25-year department veteran, took over the top position in the department when former Police Chief Cory Lyman stepped down last fall to take a job in Salt Lake City.

"I want to express how much I appreciate the support of the people in the city of Ketchum over all these years, in good times and bad times," McNeil wrote in a letter to the city. "That is what I remember most. I am grateful to the city for working with me on this move. It's been a privilege to serve Ketchum for these many years."

Since Lyman's departure, the city has been looking at different options for the future of that position, as well as the entire department, including recruiting a new chief, either from within or outside the department, and a possible merger with the Sun Valley Police Department.

However, the option that has received the most traction with the City Council is a potential contract for service with the Blaine County Sheriff's Office.

At a meeting in February, Sheriff Walt Femling presented an initial proposal of the contract, in which he claimed he could save the city about $400,000 per year. A large part of that savings would come from the lower salaries paid by the sheriff's office.

Since that meeting, city staff have continued to look over the figures, and Hall said he now feels confident that such a contract could save taxpayers more than $1 million over the next four years.

Hall said Femling will be back before the council on May 4 for a public hearing on the issue and possibly a vote on a contract.

If it's approved, Femling would likely put one of his current officers in charge in Ketchum, returning Kassner to his previous position.

In the meantime, Kassner, who has been a Ketchum police officer since 1986, said he will focus on keeping the department moving forward, a challenge given that his force is down to eight officers from its usual 12.

And despite having a new office, Kassner said he will continue to get onto the Ketchum streets as much as possible.

"I get claustrophobic sitting behind a desk," said Kassner, 51, during an interview. "Like everyone here, I'll be wearing a number of hats—this means answering calls and getting out on my bike. I'm just lucky we have such a great veteran crew here."

And while Kassner's time at the post might be limited, there is little doubt that his experience makes him up to the task.

"The city has 100 percent confidence that Dave will step in and do a great job as acting police chief," Hall said.

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