City Council reached at least one near-consensus at Monday's stormy informal meeting: The group has doubts about Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers' reorganization ideas.
The new chief seemed sunny as he presented his plan, which already had been approved by Acting City Manager Mike Anderson, but had not yet been seen by council. Myers said the plan would create a more logically organized police department by centralizing power in certain areas, improving the department's communication and adding seven patrol officers. It also would save the city nearly $123,000.
But Myers, now six months into his move from Appleton, Wis., didn't get the round of applause he might have been seeking from the penny-pinching council.
Mayor Lionel Rivera said he hoped progress reports would indicate the plan curbed violent crime, but many other council members issued more direct I'll-be-watching-you-type statements.
Vice Mayor Larry Small voiced concern about the financial wisdom of eliminating some lower-level positions while adding higher-level ones. He also said the new plan would take away direct supervisors who often act as problem-solvers.
"I think similar problems have been created in the Sheriff's Department in the last few years from the exact same process," Small said.
He later added, "I'll hold the city manager accountable for the decision, but frankly, I don't think I buy into it."
Councilman Darryl Glenn didn't hide his disdain for the plan.
"It seems like we're reorganizing for the sake of reorganizing," he said. "I want to see some verifiable data on why we're doing this."
Myers also faced criticism for eliminating some positions that focused on crime prevention in specific neighborhoods. Some of the officers who once were responsible for going to watch meetings and looking for crime trends in neighborhoods will now serve as resources for the entire city.
Myers justified the plan by saying he hoped to give every officer enough time to work on crime prevention, rather than just responding to calls. This didn't quiet the dissident voices.
"You've killed off the single point of contact," Councilman Tom Gallagher said. "Our [neighborhoods'] point of contact becomes the dispatch center."
Added Councilwoman Margaret Radford, who has worked as a neighborhood leader: "I knew who the neighborhood resource officer was. He was on speed dial."
Other parts of Myers' plan met with less opposition for instance, grouping some parts of the department by specialty, rather than location. That should create better communication in key areas, such as juvenile justice and investigations, Myers said.
The chief also got general support from Councilmen Randy Purvis and Jerry Heimlicher, who said they'd let the chief deal with his department and hope for the best.
In other developments, the city once again faces a budget shortfall. Current predictions are that the city will have $9.3 million less than planned for its 2007 budget season, which will result in a 2008 budget shortfall of about $15 million. The lack of money is largely due to low sales-tax revenues, along with a decline in fees collected from traffic tickets.
The city has already made cuts including hiring freezes, across-the-board funding reductions, and elimination of most reimbursements for out-of-town travel, training and in-town meetings. More cuts could be made if sales-tax revenues do not pick up soon.
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