Public works director position discussed
by Randy Parks
After almost three years of not having a police chief, the Burns City Council decided it was time to put someone in that position, and the hire will come from within the department.
At its regular meeting on Wednesday, March 25, the council agreed by consensus to appoint Police Sergeant Newt Skunkcap to the police chief position at its next meeting on April 8.
Before agreeing to make the appointment, the council discussed the steps that led to the decision.
Skunkcap was promoted to sergeant in January 2014, and has been attending classes and training to meet the qualifications needed to be chief. It was pointed out that Burns Police Administrative Assistant Brice Mundlin will be retiring June 30, 2016, and by appointing Skunkcap to the chief position now, it will give him a year to work with Mundlin on handling the administrative duties of the position.
Mundlin said the city lost its last police chief because of budget cuts, and the department has been preparing Skunkcap for the position by sending him to training.
“Once he has been appointed chief, he will have a two-year window to complete the training, and he’s almost there,” Mundlin said. “All that’s left is a two-week managerial course.”
The council noted that when Mundlin retires, they will hire an entry-level officer to bring the department back up to four officers.
“We’ll have a chief that patrols and handles administrative duties, and we need a chief,” Mayor Craig LaFollette said. “Newt has been working with Brice already, and it makes more sense to hire from within the department than to get someone, like a retired police chief, who leaves after a couple years.”
The council discussed the retirement of Public Works Director Dave Cullens, effective Sept. 1. LaFollette stated that Cullens had presented the city with information about the position, and the council could use that information to help in the decision-making process. The council will discuss the position further at its next meeting.
The council approved Resolution No. 15-596, increasing budget amounts within the airport fund for the projection of wild fires and adding personnel services.
City Clerk/Interim City Manager Dauna Wensenk told the council the resolution was drafted because there wasn’t enough money to purchase fuel during the fire season last year. By using past figures, they can estimate how much fuel will be needed for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Burns Fire Chief Scott Williamson gave a brief overview of the conditions for the upcoming fire season. He said the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is looking at 90 percent of its state lands being below 50 percent of average snow pack.
“We count on snowpack and runoff in the spring. There are more fuel loads drying out already, and depending on lightning activity, we could see the fire season early on,” Williamson said. “We’ve been talking with the BLM about how to fight fires because this is a completely different situation this year.”
Williamson added that his department has been working to get the word out to citizens about creating defensible space around their homes to protect themselves.
On Wednesday, April 1, a trailer from the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, designed to train fire fighters in live fire attack procedures, will be in town.
The council opened a public hearing at 6:15 p.m. to listen to an appeal of a planning commission decision.
Mayor LaFollette explained that the planning commission had denied a request for a variance at 35 South Grand to allow a previously-built carport up to the property line. The findings by the commission were that the applicant did not meet the four criteria required to allow a variance, and a 2-2 vote by the commission resulted in a denial of the request.
Ron Jones, who applied for the variance and the appeal, stated the planning commission meeting was done “unprofessionally,” and the commission brought hearsay into its decision to deny the variance request. Jones said he was told two years ago that he didn’t need a permit to build a 10×20 carport, and when he found out he did, he came to the planning commission to make amends, and he was denied his request.
“I can’t see a reason to not grant a variance. I made a mistake, came to the planning commission to ask for a variance, and never got a good reason why I was denied. There are no safety issues, no traffic problems, vision isn’t blocked, and I sent out letters to the neighbors and none had a problem,” Jones said. “I’m hoping you have some mercy here so I don’t have to tear down my building.”
LaFollette reminded Jones that the burden of proof was on him to show that he had met all the criteria to overturn the decision, and he had yet to do that.
Jones stated the building was a foot in back of the property line, but there was no proof of that as a survey had not been done, and it wasn’t clear where the actual property line runs.
A motion was made to approve the variance, but it died because of a lack of a second.
A second motion was made to deny the variance request, and it passed on a 3-2 vote. Councilors Dan Hoke and Lou Ann Deiter, and Mayor LaFollette voted in favor of the motion. Councilors Charity Robey and Jerry Woodfin voted nay.
Councilors Terri Presley and Dennis Davis excused themselves from the hearing, as they are on the planning commission.
Legal counsel advised that the staff needs to write up their findings and decision on the vote to clarify how they came up with their vote, and the decision will be adopted at the next meeting.
The council held a discussion regarding making the airport manager a city employee, rather than an independent contractor, until June 30. The compensation package would include a monthly salary of $1,800, plus benefits, and the manager’s performance would be subject to a review by the city manager or acting city manager.
There was also a discussion on a need for a back-up plan should the airport manger get sick or want to go on vacation.
The council voted to make the airport manager a city employee through June 30 and approved the compensation package.
In other business, the council:
• voted to approve the purchase of materials for fuel tank repairs at the airport in the amount of $7,868. That amount does not include shipping or installation costs;
• discussed having a community cleanup day on April 18. Wensenk said she had talked with C&B Sanitary about being open on that day from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. to accept yard debris and metal only. She asked for volunteers to help with the activity at the transfer station.
The next council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 8, at city hall.