Friday, January 25, 2013

City of Sun Valley needs partners, not frenemies

Sun Valley Mayor Dewayne Briscoe’s decision to hire former Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling to pinch-hit while Sun Valley Police Chief Cam Daggett is on medical leave to recover from heart surgery was a good call.

Daggett told the city he will be away from the job for an indeterminate amount of time. The mayor reported that the well-liked, long-time chief is thinking of retiring. We wish the chief a speedy recovery.

Femling retired in 2011 and is a private consultant to law enforcement agencies around the West. He left behind a solid and well-run department that was shaped by his sure and steady leadership.

Briscoe took pains to make it clear that Femling’s appointment isn’t part of any move to consolidate the city’s police department with the county. There’s no reason to doubt it.

However, if Daggett retires, the city should look seriously at consolidating with county law enforcement by contract.

The city of Ketchum did so in 2009. It wanted to streamline and improve its law enforcement operations, which had turned in at least one notable investigative failure, and to save money. It found it could also save an estimated $250,000 to $300,000 over four years by reducing managerial overhead. The city retained its ability to control salaries and benefits paid to Ketchum officers and to determine the range of law enforcement services it receives. Even though the county carries out law enforcement duties in Ketchum, the city always has the option to reconstitute its own police department if it wants to.

By all accounts, Ketchum has been happy with the results of its decision.

At one time or another, every city and taxing district in Blaine County has been guilty of dismissing the idea of consolidating some services—even when it would improve them and save money. Differences in style, turf battles and pride of place—the quintessentially Western propensity to insist that “we can do it ourselves”—have gotten in the way.

Under former Mayor Wayne Willich, the city of Sun Valley tried hard to make itself an island. It bickered with other cities and the county over fire and dispatch services and marketing. It argued that the city was overtaxed and underserved. The bickering damaged the city’s relationships and ability to work with other elected officials.

As the city begins to emerge from the turmoil of events surrounding a forensic audit of its operations, it should examine how to form valuable alliances with other cities and the county. Looking at a merger of its police department with the county would be a good first step.

Creating partnerships will serve the city far better than making frenemies.

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