KOOSKIA City of Kooskia officials plan to set a meeting with Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings to address the municipal contract with the agency for law enforcement services, which is pending termination due to apparent miscommunication between both sides.
As of press time Tuesday, a meeting had not been confirmed with Giddings.
The city council discussed its contract with Idaho County for city law enforcement services at its meeting last Wednesday, Aug. 8, primarily raising concern with the cost being requested – $46,000 for one year; it’s current contract at $25,000. Also discussed was the recent ICSO notice of contract termination – as reported in last week’s Free Press — coming as a result of a July 10 city letter to the Idaho POST Council stating it had established a Kooskia Police Department and set up two employees, Carlos Martinez and Tim Sokolowski, as police officers.
“Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation was going around that got everyone riled up, and in the end, it caused a situation that shouldn’t have been caused,” said Martinez, city public works superintendent, speaking to the issue last week. “Had people just contacted one another and talked about it, everything would have functioned just fine.”
Martinez explained the issue concerns a city decision May 9 to designate him and Sokolowski (both of whom have previous policing experience, mostly with ICSO) as code/law enforcement officers. To do this, the city would attach them under a named “Kooskia Police Department” that would establish formal tracking and allow them to maintain their POST (Police Officer Standards and Training) certifications.
“The only thing we were going to do was code enforcement — barking dogs, parking complaints, things like that – within the city. The city was going to maintain its contract with the sheriff’s office, status quo. That’s it,” he said. “Unfortunately, misinformed people took the information and ran to the sheriff saying we were starting own police department, that the sky was falling. And now we’re in the situation we’re in.”
“Had a conversation happened from either side, he continued, had the sheriff, who received word on this through notification from POST, contacted the city on its intent and whether it intended to cancel the contract. “[Kirk] MacGregor, city attorney, explained to them, at least that was our understanding, and next thing you know we’re receiving a letter.” This referenced July 25 correspondence from Giddings to Kooskia Mayor Charlotte Schilling and the city council, noting the city’s police department designation action, as advised to POST, and ICSO would terminate the contract effective Aug. 31, with final city payment being prorated due to the agreement being cancelled one month prior to expiration.
With the clock ticking toward Aug. 31, council addressed an Aug. 7 e-mail from Giddings to MacGregor regarding contract renewal, with the request the annual fee be changed from $25,000 to $46,000. The city had paid the higher amount as of fiscal year 2015, but since then reduced its payment to the current amount.
“That $46,000 comes out of general fund, and we can’t afford it, to be honest,” said councilor Don Coffman. “The mill is closed, we’ve lost population, we’re not getting as much taxes as we used to…. We just can’t afford it.”
“I don’t think we should have to pay $46,000” said Mayor Schilling, “because he doesn’t do any of our ordinance enforcement in town, no code enforcements at all.” Deputies are stationed locally and have an office in city hall, “but when you call, they’re not here right away, they’re usually out of town on a call, on an accident up the river, in Kamiah.”
Council discussed briefly what ICSO provided in the contract, and councilor Marty Stettler discussed what other cities in the region pay for comparable services. With what Kooskia pays, and the fact the city provides office space and related facility service, “it’s way higher per capita than any other city within the county…. To me, it’s nothing against the sheriff. We just don’t have the money to raise it.”
Councilor Doreen Ash related citizen concerns she’s received on apparent overpolicing, “…deputies around every corner, down every dark alley…. I’d rather not have it,” she said, regarding the contract.
Schilling suggested the meeting with Giddings, requesting another councilor accompany her as there would be a conflict of interest in having MacGregor as representation as he also serves as the county’s attorney and prosecutor. Coffman stated as they’re negotiating a contract, they should have a lawyer present, but no council action was taken toward that, and he agreed to accompany Schilling.
Concern in the contract termination issue was raised from a few persons in attendance that evening and resident Cliff Jones was allowed to address the council.
“I am troubled by recent events by this city council and you that puts every person in this community and city at risk,” Jones said, raising issue the decisions leading into this were not publicly discussed prior, and that their actions put public safety at risk.
“Don’t you think maybe all this trouble with the law enforcement contract and law enforcement in our city limits might be directly related to what you did,” Jones said, “your letter to POST, and the fact you and the council declared out of the blue that you were going to form your own city police department? Don’t you think that antagonized the sheriff’s department?”
Jones also questioned how Martinez and Sokolowski could do code enforcement along with their public works responsibilities. Discussion from council and Martinez was both duties could be handled appropriately and would not require additional financial compensation.