As thousands flocked to "tea party" anti-tax rallies this week, Star Tribune reporter Katie Humphrey dug up a local example of how that fervor can backfire. In this case, in a dangerous way.
In the growing south suburban community of Elko New Market, newly-elected city councilman Bob Hanna, who ran on a tax-cutting platform, convinced a majority of councilmembers to hastily dismantle the city police department — all in the name of saving money. The trouble is that the city made this move without lining up a replacement for permanent law enforcement protection.
Boneheaded doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Officers were taken off the streets hours after the council vote on April 9. The department will be officially disbanded on May 13. Right now, the Scott County sheriff’s office is responding to calls. It’s hoped that the community can contract with the office to patrol the community long-term. Many suburban cities around the metro pay their sheriff’s offices for these services, a cost-efficient and quality arrangement. At the same time, it takes time to ink the contract, get it approved and then, hire officers for the new positions. "It’s just not something that happens overnight,’’ said Scott County Sheriff Kevin Studnicka, who said that the county board will have to sign off on any agreement.
City councilmembers Denise Schneider and Jim Friedges joined Hanna in this poorly thought-out decision. Mayor Jason Ponsonby and Council Member Dennis Melgaard had far more sense and opposed it.
We’ll give Hanna, Schneider and Friedges the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their intentions. Yes, it’s important to spend taxpayers’ money wisely — and less of it when possible. But local leadership should be smart enough to realize that there are other critical considerations. Hanna, Schneider and Friedges deemed their political agendas more important than the safety of the community’s 3,788 residents. That’s unacceptable.