Tact lacking in council's process regarding police contract
October 3, 2008 · Updated 12:12 AM
Fiscal responsibility. It's a term we always hope comes from the mouths of our elected officials. Recently, a couple of Snoqualmie City Council members again reiterated the words fiscal responsibility when they asked for a presentation by the King County Sheriff's Office on contract services for police protection. While I applaud Greg Fullington and Matt Larson's constant overseeing of fiscal responsibility, I do think the whole situation could have been handled better.
Keep in mind that in addition to fiscal responsibility, you also have an ethical responsibility to fully explore options without raising concern by those employed in the city's police department. Remember, they have done a great job to this point and even I would consider the approach a slap in the face. It's like not valuing them as important to the city. Also remember, several officers are residents, so you represent them as well.
I think the best approach may have been to inform the rest of the council and staff through the public safety commission, asking them to better understand the police department's budget and then come back with some proposals for reducing costs and/or services. The comparison should be an apple-to-apple comparison because we all know anything the county provides in this arena will be less in service. Nothing against the hard-working officers of the county, but I would bet if a comparison of response times was shown between downtown North Bend and Snoqualmie, the county's response times would be considerably higher due to less resources.
It's always worth asking the question: What would it take to reduce the police department's budget by 5 percent, 10 percent or even 20 percent and what services would no longer be available? But to consider a full-blown transition to county officers seems like the meat-cleaver approach without any consideration of how the city's own force can be streamlined for the desired savings.
Finally, this is a big enough issue that it has to go to the voters. As much as I respect the knowledge of the council members, this really isn't a decision that they can make. This isn't a representative decision but one the citizens of Snoqualmie need to make at the polls. You may find that voters would be willing to pay a little more for their own police force if asked. Voters of the city should demand the right to vote on police services, if it comes to that, and consider the answer when going to the polls to vote on their elected officials.
And let's also put the issue to bed for some period of time. It will be very difficult to keep great officers if they are faced with the possibility that they may need to look for a job every time the council needs to come up with a few extra dollars. Maybe a fiscal comparison of services should be made every six years.
Again, it is worth looking at public safety budgets and asking hard questions as long as we are all willing to consider the answers carefully. I would expect elected officials to do this on occasion, even asking department heads to prepare budget reductions. But keep in mind both constituents and employees when asking the tough questions. Ultimately, in this case, let the voters decide.