The Menahga City Council reversed its decision about letting the police department replace outdated equipment.
At their Dec. 10 meeting, the council authorized Police Chief Adam Gunderson to only purchase his top priorities: nine portable radios ($37,086), three tasers ($1,751) and 1 new rifle ($1,700). Additional acquisitions were to be postponed until 2020.
When the council reconvened on Monday, they voted 3-2 to allow Gunderson to buy all the equipment he requested, a total of $50,961. This includes another rifle ($1,700), less lethal munitions ($3,474), ballistic shields ($4,050) and masks ($1,200).
Mayor Joan Liimatta and council member Tim Ellingson opposed the motion.
Last week, Gunderson said the police department’s balance would be $86,893 after purchasing a new $57,000 squad car ($57,000) and his initial equipment request of $53,711.
Liimatta argued that Banyon, the city’s accounting software, was not accurate. “We just do not have the money,” she said. “We don’t have extra money in our budget this year.”
She spoke to the city auditor. “I know he’s not uncomfortable with where the numbers are in Banyon,” Liimatta said, adding the auditor said there is $200,000 unaccounted for and not all of the banking has been reconciled.
City Administrator Curt Kreklau said Banyon is, in fact, balancing out. It’s unclear why or how certain items were allocated to certain funds in 2019, but he is working with the auditor on that. Motor oil, for example, could be allocated as maintenance expense, lubricant or office supply. Past practice is that the squad car is paid with unallocated funds, he noted.
Liimatta said she wants to hold off on any major purchases.
Gunderson reiterated that he wanted to work with Katie Heppner, executive director of The Economic Alliance, to find grants for both equipment and a possible fire hall/police building. “She told me she was directed not to work with me on any grant projects,” he said.
“I didn’t direct her not to work with you,” Liimatta said. “I told her that we did not have monies over and above whatever any grant would bring in. We don’t have money to build a new fire department. We don’t have money to build a new police department. (Heppner) said that a grant would be minimal, percentage-wise, of a cost of a building.”
Gunderson told Liimatta to clarify the matter with Heppner. A new building is just one of the options, he said. He also spoke with Fire Chief Dave Kicker, Public Works Supervisor Ron Yliniemi and Kreklau – all would like to see another city complex due to the need for more space. Gunderson requested that any unspent police funds from 2019 roll into his department’s 2020 capital equipment fund and capital building fund. A building reserve indicates the city’s financial commitment, he said, if a grant is sought.
Council member Robyn Keranen said no individual should be directing Heppner one way or the other; rather, it should be a council decision.
Council member Art Huebner argued it remains unknown whether or not the city can afford a new public safety building.
Keranen said police equipment is a matter of safety. She wanted to purchase the essentials.
Gunderson noted their current rifles were manufactured in 1982 and military surplus. He stated that existing tasers and radios were malfunctioning.
Ellingson questioned the need for shields, helmets and masks, since the county handles SWAT team matters, like riots.
The equipment would be useful in the instance of a suicidal male with a gun, Gunderson replied. “If that person is alone inside a residence, we’re not going to go in,” he explained, but if someone else is present and in danger, the police will enter the home.
“If I have a shield, I can cover myself and an innocent bystander” in the case of a school shooting, he added.
He pointed out that, in the last two weeks, four or five police officers were shot. One was killed in New Jersey that same day, Dec. 10.
“It can happen anywhere,” Gunderson said. “I’ll take a bullet for anyone. At the same time, I still want to go home to my family and I want to make sure my officers have the proper equipment to go home to their families, too.”
Gunderson noted that Menahga “will not be on the frontlines” of the Line 3 pipeline. Most protests are peaceful, he said, but “there is that fringe element. Those are the people that throw bottles at cops, chunks of concrete.”
Huebner called it “ludicrous” to deny the police department purchases when the council was considering $84,000 for skid-steer for public works. He made a motion to approve the entire equipment list, but it wasn’t acknowledged until the council resumed its meeting on Monday. Keranan brought the matter up, and Kreklau confirmed that Huebner’s motion was part of the recording. She seconded Huebner’s motion, which then passed 3-2.
“It’s important we keep them safe,” said council member Karol Andreasen.
Gunderson said he recently learned about Shield 616, a faith-based program that raises money to provide protective gear to local law enforcement officers. He was looking into the program helping Menahga purchase helmets and body armor.