Friday, May 1, 2009

What contract?

The city of Ketchum announced late Wednesday afternoon that the City Council will vote Monday on a four-year contract with the Blaine County Sheriff's office to manage the Ketchum Police Department.

The public must ask, "What contract?"

Aside from the fact that city had solicited a proposal from the sheriff's office, the public knows nothing about any details.

It defies belief that the council will be review, discuss and make an informed decision on this contract in a single meeting—unless of course, members of the council have already discussed and decided the matter behind closed doors.

The council already had at least one closed meeting on the subject in early February—a likely violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law. It had a second open meeting in which the sheriff appeared and said the county was interested.

By law, the council can't vote on contracts behind closed doors. But voting with only the merest nod to the public interest will be a sham.

This so-called contract has never seen the light of day. The provisions of the proposed agreement were not available at press time on Thursday. Yet, the council is ready to vote on a de facto consolidation of the city's police with the county?

Consolidation may be a good idea, but how is the public—whom the council, the police and the sheriff are supposed to serve—supposed to judge the contract without any details?

Ketchum residents and businesses have a big stake in the performance of a department that historically has engaged in community-sensitive policing in a town that becomes the world's playground every winter and summer. The department deals with everything from lost kids and parking tickets to burglaries and other serious felony offenses.

Ketchum is accustomed to police who are accessible and familiar—professionals in whom they place a great deal of trust. Its policing involves high public contact with officers on bicycles or on foot, as well as in patrol cars. The department responds to accidents, emergencies and security alarms with little or no delay.

The Blaine County Sheriff and his deputies have far different responsibilities. The sheriff's office patrols a huge rural area and operates the jail. Its operations are necessarily more aloof from the daily lives of the people it serves.

Ketchum is looking to save money in the face of steeply declining local-option tax revenues. Understandable. But this is no way to do it.

The Ketchum Council needs to back up, open the door and explain to the public how any plan will work. There should be no surprises, cozy deal making, or secret discussions—online or otherwise—on a matter this serious.

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