By SHELLY WILKISON
Information presented by the City Manager Monday as an important consideration for the City Council as it deliberates on whether to cut staff at the police department was partially incorrect.
Citing a decline in traffic citations as a primary consideration for cutting the number of officers on patrol, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa told the City Council he is looking for input on staffing levels, but appeared to be building a case for a reduction that included what he said was a downward trend in citations and revenue for 2012.
“This is the mid-year review where we can evaluate to see where we’re at and where we will end up at the end of the year,” he said. “We are trailing (the number of citations issued in 2010 and 2011) now.”
However, a request by The Independent on the number of citations issued from Jan. 1-March 18, 2011, shows the opposite is true.
Information for Jan. 1-March 18, 2012, which was provided to the Council in advance of Monday’s meeting, shows 831 citations. Information obtained from the Municipal Court by The Independent shows 691 citations during that time period in 2011. That number was not included in statistics provided to the Council.
De La Rosa defined the discrepancy between his statement to Council and the actual number as “an educated guess.”
He said the trend he reported to the Council Monday “was an educated guess on my part as to where we would end up” at the close of the fiscal year.
As further explanation, De La Rosa added that he has been looking into the activities of the police department for about six months and when officers realized that, “performance started to change.”
De La Rosa told The Independent Wednesday that he brought the question of police department staffing forward as a result of comments he had previously heard from four of the five current Council members that the police department was over-staffed. He said two members of the previous Council, who were defeated in May 2011, agreed and were vocal about their views. He did not name the elected officials.
De La Rosa said he is not in favor of reducing the size of the staff for the simple reason of having a department and a reduction in spending.
“I think its time for a change in personnel,” he said, although he would not identify individuals who were the subject of his concern.
He told the Council that two positions in the police department may open in the coming weeks — one for disciplinary reasons and one who may be leaving for employment elsewhere. He said the purpose of the discussion was to determine if Council wanted to fill the openings when they become vacant.
He said the disciplinary concerns he has referenced to Council in public meetings are not grave enough to warrant the termination of an officer and the public should not be concerned from a safety standpoint.
While he said one officer has been the subject of more complaints than others, most complainants are not willing to put those in writing. As a result, the officer has been counseled repeatedly about his performance, his dealings with the public and his attitudes.
“There are some employees who get by with just enough to avoid getting written up,” De La Rosa said.
“A lot of residents know everyone and they don’t want to file formal complaints,” he said. “Additionally, police departments don’t like to write up their own officers. They are all very visible.”
He said the individual’s current problems may simply be the result of “poor judgement.”
“Leadership starts at the top, and there are three levels of administration at the PD (police department),” he said, referring to the Chief, a Captain and a Sergeant. The remaining employees — two full-time and one part-time — hold the rank of Officer.
He said despite the problems that exist with one officer, performance evaluations consistently show perfect scores. In the past, city department heads have not received sufficient training in human resource management — something De La Rosa said will become increasingly important as the city grows.
“I’m so immersed in water, sewer, plats and dealing with the Council…I need to spend more time with department heads on how they should be managing their resources,” he admitted.
Despite the presentation made to the Council regarding court revenues vs police department expenses and the number of citations written over time, De La Rosa said he is not trying to persuade the Council to use that as the basis for their decision on staffing levels.
“All we’re doing is looking at trends,” he said. “We’re trying to see what we want to be when we grow up.”
Currently, the police department has five full-time officers, one part-time officer and a non-paid reserve officer who works one eight-hour shift per week.
De La Rosa said if the City reduces its police staff by two officers, it can save about $75,000 in salaries and benefits.
“That’s significant,” he said.
In 2011, police department expenditures totalled $400,565. De La Rosa said revenue from traffic violations that year totalled $163,595. In 2010, police expenditures were almost $422,350 compared to fine revenues of $177,245.
This year’s police expenditures are budgeted at $402,860, which is 38 percent of the City’s general operating budget.
De La Rosa said with “diminished effort” on the part of the police department, the caseload for the court is such that there might be too much staff. He said with fewer officers writing citations, the staff of the Municipal Court could possibly be reduced.
“Can we reduce one full-time (employee) to part-time? Yes,” he said, adding that another possible cost savings could be to reduce court hours to Monday-Thursday. He said fewer customers come in on Fridays.
De La Rosa said reducing staff in the Court will not have the same impact on the City budget that cuts in police personnel will have. He estimated reductions in court staff would save the City about $10,000.
After a 10-minute executive session, the Council voted unanimously to reduce the employment of Deputy Court Clerk Jodee Wells to part-time. In his motion, Tippie said Mrs. Wells had made the request.
Councilman Jack Harkrider said if the time comes to cut police staff, he would like to know the impact on the remaining three officers and how that would impact police protection in the city.
De La Rosa responded that county deputies could fill in when local police are not on duty.
Tippie suggested that if positions are not filled when they become vacant as De La Rosa anticipates, the City should hold those positions rather than eliminate them completely. By doing so, the Council could always undo its decision and choose to add staff as needed.
“I’m not calling it a reduction in force (RIF) or a hiring freeze,” De La Rosa said. “It is a restructuring. I don’t want to send the wrong message.”
He noted Monday that during the current election cycle some may be talking about public safety issues, “but we have a fiduciary responsibility to keep costs reasonable.”
Mayor Michele “Mike” Murphy encouraged De La Rosa to follow his “best judgement,” but added she was not comfortable with reducing the staff to fewer than three officers.
“It would never be less than three,” De La Rosa assured.
He said restructuring the department would make resources available to fund employees in other areas of city government where more help is needed.
After a lengthy discussion, Council members Mike Crane and Byron Tippie requested De La Rosa provide a better estimate as to the fiscal impact on the City if there are only three officers as opposed to five.
Later in the meeting, De La Rosa asked the Council to authorize the employment of a part-time City Planner who would assist with the development of the City’s Comprehensive Plan and other related tasks.
He said the individual would be paid $15 per hour for about 20 hours per week and work up to four months for an estimated total cost of $20,000 and that expense would be borne by the City’s Economic Development Corp.
“We need to move these projects forward,” he said. “I am stretched thin and sometimes I just need a break.”
De La Rosa said he already has a candidate for the position who is a certified planner with a Master’s Degree. The planner would work closely with the Planning & Zoning Commission, which has been at odds with De La Rosa for months. In fact, he recommended last month that Council remove three members of the Commission because they were not willing to work with him. The Council has not taken action yet on that request.
“If every time I have to explain to Planning & Zoning every single thing because they don’t have faith in how the City Manager works, I need a person to work with them,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have to move these projects forward.”
The Comprehensive Plan, which will be developed by economic development experts from the Lower Colorado River Authority, is being partially funded by the City’s Economic Development Corp. About $20,000 has been set aside for that purpose.
De La Rosa, whose salary is partially funded with monies from the EDC, said the money to pay the part-time planner would also come from that source. While he first explained that the job would last four months, he later said the term would be six months and the employee would have no contract.
Crane said even though tax revenues are directed to the EDC fund monthly, the Council still has an obligation “to be good stewards” of the money.
“I’d like to look into this some more,” said Crane, who suggested the item be tabled until a future meeting.
De La Rosa responded that he would not be moving forward on the comprehensive plan development with LCRA until additional help is available.
In response to an inquiry from Tippie, De La Rosa said the EDC Board had not provided input on the expenditure for the part-time position. He said the Board has not met and he would speak with Tippie after the Council meeting to provide a more detailed explanation as to why the panel has not met.
The last time the EDC Board met was November 2011.
In other business Monday, the Council:
* Voted unanimously to approve an audit report prepared by Donald Allman CPA. In his presentation, Allman noted no concerns in city finances and commended officials for starting the current fiscal year with a surplus of $9,180.
* Voted unanimously to permit the Manager to sell a 2006 Dodge Charger at auction. The vehicle was previously used by the police department.
* Voted unanimously to grant an exception request for removing large diameter trees from private right-of-way within the Estates of Stonewall Ranch, a new residential development.
Councilman Charles Canady was not present Monday.