Ask that sheriff and superintendents meet and form a plan
The Commissioner’s meeting room was packed with approximately 40 people comprised of city mayors, council people from countywide and citizens concerned with one of four subjects discussed last week – cutting the SRO program, cutting infrastructure funding to the cities, the county taking over La Cygne and Pleasanton’s city fire departments, and last, potential charges for additional usage of county dispatchers due to Hwy. 69 patrolling by Linn Valley and Pleasanton.
The first subject to allow public speaking on was the SRO program; USD 344 School Nurse Melissa Shroyer spoke and said she was speaking as a school nurse, mother and taxpayer and said there were several reasons to have an SRO at the school.
She outlined safety, rapport with the students and more. She continued that she understood the desire for the county to be revenue neutral and said the cost to the benefit needs to be looked at.
Deputy Klayton Parscale spoke next and handed the commissioners a petition with 600 names on it stating they supported the SRO program.
Parscale had addressed the commissioners in the past and was told to visit with the various school boards and “the commission was not the place for this.”
He said, “Now it is the place.”
He said in addition to his 600 signatures, La Cygne resident Teal Briggs had an additional 500 names on an online petition she started.
He told the commissioners that his petition was started Wednesday and explained that the SRO program helps the county with patrolling during the summer when several lake communities double in size. They help with wrecks, the fair and holiday patrolling, as well.
“The program means Linn County is safer during peak times; response time is decreased with more manpower – not just on the SRO,” said Parscale. “This is not an ultimatum; it’s a petition to show you the citizens are okay with the “burden” and want the SRO program to stay in place.”
Jayhawk-Linn 7th grader Rayse Dean spoke to the commissioners next. After handing them his prepared speech and told them the SROs were responsible for educating him, and fellow students, on the dangers of drugs, helping them with issues at school and more.
USD 344 High School Principal Mitch Shaw said, “SROs make school safer; they prevent a lot of issues that can happen and create a better environment for kids.”
Linn Valley City Councilman Lew Donelson told the commissioners that removing the SRO program would not remove the need for them or the amount of incidents that are occurring in the schools.
USD 362 Superintendent Rex Bollinger gave a brief history that the superintendents met March 7 to discuss an agreement that each district would pay $12,000/SRO to the county. He said his board and Jayhawk-Linn’s board approved the agreement. “I’m shocked and disappointed you’re taking it out of the budget; the agreement was signed and sent in March.”
Commissioner Jim Johnson then asked Bollinger about his budget increases and was answered that increases came, in part, due to increased valuation in the district.
Bollinger told the commissioners that their district budgets are strict on what funds can be used for and capital outlay can’t be used for salaries.
He said, “If we have to fund it, we have to increase taxes and you’re asking 60 percent of the county to increase taxes.”
Back and forth comments concerning changing how things are done ensued between Johnson and Bollinger with Johnson asking who was in charge of the SRO program.
Sheriff Kevin Friend answered that Deputy Clint Johnson was. Johnson then asked why Clint Johnson was in charge but not in the school.
He asked who’s choice it was that Johnson was no longer in Jayhawk-Linn as an SRO, and Friend said he was in charge and continued that the commission is in charge of finances, but not people.
The commissioners continued asking about the circumstances why Clint Johnson was not in school and Friend took the podium and told Jim Johnson, “You’re in charge of the finances – not my people. What I do with them is none of your business. My job is to effect law enforcement in Linn County – not finance it. Law enforcement is much like medical, we’re very expensive to have.”
Friend continued, “You guys come out and say you’re going to cut the program; how do you know I’m not going to cut the jail program and we’re not going to have any money coming into that place and maybe we might need people in our schools for the security of our children more than we need a whole bunch of inmates housed there.”
Bollinger again took the podium after an interchange between Johnson and Friend and said he and the other two superintendents had no problem sitting down with Friend to make a standard operating procedure for the SRO program.
Commissioner Rick James said that the commissioners sat down with the superintendents from all districts and asked for $12,000 for each SRO in their districts. He continued of his history in Linn County stating his kids went to public school until they pulled their kids out and put them in Catholic Schools, St. Thomas and St. James Academy. “When they went to their elementary and junior high. There was no SRO.”
He continued about former Sheriff Paul Filla’s funding of the SRO program in the early days. “His easiest avenue of funding was with the commission.”
“It’s not an issue of whether we should have an SRO Program, it’s who should fund it. Who funds the teachers, who funds the busses – it should never have come to the commission…the funding should switch,” said James.
Johnson said County Clerk David Lamb emailed all other 104 counties how they handle SRO programs and several audience members said, “We care about Linn County, not other counties.”
USD 344 Travis Laver commented that he’d already sent the county money and was working on putting together more, but the district is the smallest, poorest district in the county.
Laver said he had not heard from the county following his desire to trade the county out for use of the school for the senior meals program.
Pleasanton City Councilman Jake Mattingley later commented that the city was in discussion to see if they could help the school out with part of the funding of the $12,000 needed to keep an SRO at the district.
District 2 Commissioner Danny McCullough then commented that the SRO program is a “broken program. I’m in favor of 100 percent funding if there’s a manual on how to run it.”
Linn Valley POA Manager Pam McCoy later asked what “it’s broken” meant and Sheriff Kevin Friend explained that “several years ago a USD 344 SRO jacked up – the county is being sued for that. The county has responsibility and liability – that was a flaw – the wrong person in the wrong position.”
He referenced the case of David Allen Huggins molesting a student and being incarcerated for those actions.
Friend said, “A man was killed a few years ago by a county snowplow; we don’t defund snow plows now.”
“I’m being sued 13 times for $85 million,” said Friend. “Now you want to come and stick your nose in my business; I come to my commissioners for funding.”
“I’m upset about it; on Dec. 31 I have to figure out six people to fire,” said Friend.
He continued, “You told me to take $300,000 out of my budget – what other departments were told that? That’s discrimination.”
Friend said, “It’s one program of one office. If you cut 10 percent of mine, cut 10 percent of theirs. Make it fair – not one program. Everyone will hurt a little bit.”
More discussion amongst the commissioners and public ensued with City of La Cygne Police Chief Tina Fenoughty stating, “Public safety is one of the top three things families seek when researching moving to a community. The citizens of La Cygne contribute with tax dollars that go to the SRO program and dispatching. $296,000 was paid to the county in property taxes.”
She continued that the commissioners made the decision to defund the SRO program with no financial discussion and no discussion with entities affected – on their own.
“Defund the SRO program and economic development fund $600,000 saving $25 cost…” she said, “it’s not helping the taxpayer; it’s putting citizens at greater risk. Financial figures should have been presented and given to the lake communities, cities, etc.”
She urged the commission to rethink their decision.
James said to the audience, “You have spoken and I think we can work something out with the superintendents if they pay their fees; find some grants – a right way to do it this year.”
He continued, “I believe funding belongs in the school – it wouldn’t be a program without the county.”
He then made a motion to “go into negotiation with the superintendents, have them pay their full fees and work out with the sheriff what they can.”
The motion passed 2-1 with Jim Johnson voting no on continuing the program.
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