In their first city council meeting after a local option levy to fund police failed to garner enough votes last month, John Day’s elected officials weighed their options about how to move forward Aug. 24.
The city now plans to disband the police department Dec. 31 unless it receives a federal police grant. In the meantime, the city may work out a law enforcement services agreement with the county sheriff’s office for more police coverage.
John Day City Councilor Heather Rookstool said she would like to see the levy go back on the ballot in May when a double majority — more than 50% of registered voters returning ballots and more than 50% in favor of passing the measure — is not required.
Grant County’s Emergency Communications Agency Dispatch Manager Valerie Maynard said she agreed with Rookstool.
She said, historically, measures typically fail in special elections because of the required double majority. In the meantime, she said, the city could fill the budget holes with COVID-19 relief dollars.
Additionally, Maynard asked that the city look at a law enforcement services contract between the county and the city.
“That would at least give us some coverage,” she said. “The sheriff’s office can’t provide coverage without some additional funding.”
Pam Durr, the wife of John Day Police Cheif Mike Durr, said the mentality of many of the voters in John Day was to vote no on the levy because they were mad at City Manager Nick Green.
Durr said Glenn Palmer, former Grant County sheriff and a John Day resident, urged voters to oppose the levy.
In a post last month on Facebook, Palmer said he was “attempting to gain support in asking people to look at the option of voting no, or not voting in this election to defeat the levy.”
City Councilor Gregg Haberly said, if the city of Sisters could not afford to keep its police department, how could John Day?
“I don’t want to look at them guys (patrol officers) two years from now and say we don’t have jobs,” Haberly said.
Relationship between the county and the city
Green said in agenda documents for the Aug. 24 meeting that Grant County “has an unfortunate history of not honoring their commitments or agreements.” Examples included failing to follow transient lodging tax ordinance requirements, not providing in-kind contributions for street projects after committing to do so and breaching a contract for managing planning services in the city’s urban growth area.
“I have no confidence based on their track record than any law enforcement agreement we make will be upheld or enforced by the current court, nor is it likely that we would receive the coverage we pay for, as the sworn law enforcement officers will respond to calls wherever they are needed regardless of whether a city is paying for additional coverage or not,” Green said in the agenda.
At the meeting, Grant County Sheriff Todd McKinley called on John Day’s elected officials to set aside their differences with the county and begin working on a transition plan as the city moves to dissolve the John Day Police Department by the end of the year.
McKinley said the county is waiting for the city to reach out and that it is in “their ballpark” to start those discussions by getting on the county court’s agenda.
John Day City Councilor Shannon Adair said she does not lump the county and the sheriff’s pffice together.
She said she has a “significant issue” with the county court and that, in her opinion, one of the reasons the city and the county have not had a meeting is because the county has ignored the city’s request.
McKinley asked the council if they had reached out to the county about the specific topic of working out a law enforcement agreement between the county and the city. John Day Mayor Ron Lundbom said no.
Lundbom said, given the city’s past relationship with the county and what, in his opinion, was a history of reneging on their agreements, it did not give the city a “warm, fuzzy feeling” about working with the county.
Maynard told the city council that they owe it to the citizens of John Day to at least try.
McKinley said to give up on talking to the county would be akin to him giving up on fighting crime.
County Commissioner Sam Palmer told the Eagle that he has never had a bad relationship with the city of John Day. However, he said a contentious county court session with the city back in May that ended with an unidentified caller calling County Judge Scott Myers an expletive led to part of the breakdown.
He said Green’s agenda documents blaming the county for breaking contracts and not being trustworthy have not helped the two entities mend the relationship.
He said the county would try to help, but so far, it looks like it’s been a one-way street where if a project or an improvement is going to benefit the city, then they want it, but, if it’s not going to help the city, then the narrative is that the county does not uphold contracts and are unwilling to meet — made out to be the “bad guy.”
Green said in an email last week that Palmer and McKinley plan to meet with John Day’s Public Safety Committee, but the date had not been determined.