City Manager Don Munkers reads letter at meeting

By Randy Parks
Burns Times-Herald

At the Burns City Council meeting on Wednesday, April 25, City Manager (CM) Don Munkers read aloud a letter he drafted regarding the decision by the City of Hines to terminate the contract between the two cities for police chief services.

Munkers’ letter read:

I have read, heard and seen many activities over the last month addressing the issue of the police chief contract between Burns and Hines.  While I do not believe in using the news media as a battleground, after all it is news media  not an avenue for implacable activities, I feel compelled to address this particular issue from the Burns side of the equation.

Burns did suggest three options that were listed in the last issue of the paper and proceeded to draft an agreement to provide police chief services to Hines based upon the third option. Six months and $8,000 in attorney fees later we signed an agreement with Hines that was drafted by Burns legal counsel and, according to Hines reviewed by its legal counsel. The liability and indemnification language included in the agreement was that language suggested by Hines. It is therefore difficult to understand why after three months into the contract an insurance and legal review by Hines found, in their words, “the liability and indemnification sections of the agreement confusing and potentially problematic.” They were after all their words as requested by them. In fact, the indemnification and liability sections as originally proposed by Burns were almost identical to the concept that Hines received from the insurance company three months after the contract initiation date. The very sections Hines requested Burns change.

In addition, and before the agreement was signed Hines was advised that it could not contract away its liability. In that light the words of Benjamin Franklin in his historical review of Pennsylvania come to mind, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

It has been said that the liability issue was “for both Burns and Hines.”  Burns accepted its liability as the cost of providing the best police service available for both communities. It therefore, had no issue with the agreement of the liability clause contained in the overall agreement.

It was stated, “Nothing has really changed except for the loss of a chief in Hines.” I respectfully disagree.

Burns will experience an increase in on-call time for officers of approximately 260 percent.
Burns has seen an increase in criminal activity from an average 6.8 incidents the first 15 weeks of this year to 17 incidents  in the last week. This suggests an awareness of the reduction in coverage for both cities.
Police coverage for both cities was at 258 man-hours per week. Burns now has 132 man-hours of coverage and Hines has 84 man-hours per week. Because there is not a bi-city coordinated schedule, Burns has dropped 126 man-hours of coverage and Hines has lost 174 man-hours of coverage.

The decreases described affect both cities, at a time of budget reduction concerns that could have been avoided. Once again, the citizens of each city suffer.

The reality is as I stated in a prior city council meeting, Hines lost three officers and Burns lost two because of the decision by Hines to cancel the agreement.

The relationship between the two cities is strained. One can only wonder if the cooperative relationship between the fire department and the public works department is next. The liability issue for fire or public works, when either city responds to the other, may not differ from the liability expressed with the police departments.

These are tough times that call for tough decisions that benefit the whole of the communities and county. It is necessary for all government entities to work together for economy of scale.   It is my understanding that there are individuals that are discussing the combining of the cities. I applaud those discussions; wish those persons success. For if these types of tough decisions are not made, neither city will survive in a manner the citizens of both deserve.   Over a long distance, you learn about the strength of your horse. Let us hope our horses are proven strong and willing to pull in the same direction.

Best Regards,
Don Munkers, city manager

Councilor Laura Nichols reported they had received two bids for fencing around Washington Park, one from Mac Runnels in the amount of $12,747 and the other from Gerard LaBrecque in the amount of $9,566.73.

The council voted to accept the bid from LaBrecque pending budget review.

Nichols also stated that rubber curbing, shavings and mats will be installed in the swing-set area of the park.

In other business:

• Tod Gahley, owner of A Parts Store, asked permission to close a portion of North Diamond next to his store for a special sales event on May 10. The council agreed to allow the request;

• CM Munkers stated that part of the cemetery plan was to replace the cyclone fence in front of the cemetery along Highway 20. Munkers said he will be drafting a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the fence and installation separately. He also was going to ask the county court to participate in the funding as it is a beautification project.

The next council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 9, at city hall.

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