Kempner council retains reserve police officers, residents question city spending

By LYNETTE SOWELL

Cove Leader-Press

 

It was not a unanimous vote at the Kempner city council meeting on Tuesday evening, but the city of Kempner will retain its reserve police officer program. The motion to put the police reserve officer program on hold in Kempner was made after the direction by Kempner mayor Carolyn Crane to lay off two of the town’s four paid officers at the council’s May 8 meeting.

On Tuesday, Crane said that although reserve officers are volunteers, the city pays for uniforms, weapons, training, providing vehicles and liability insurance.

“Indeed, it is not the same as having a paid officer, but the costs associated with it are more than negligible. At this point in time, the creation of the reserve force and the use of the reserve force in light of our current fiscal situation, is a question,” Crane said. “We carry their license for them; and that’s part of the reason they volunteer in our city…the figure on our worker’s compensation went from $30 to $800 a year because of increase in staff.”

Chief of Police Forrest Spence asked to address the council during the discussion.

“I can say, being the chief of police and knowing the expenses, the guys provide the city more time and they’ve even donated equipment, more than the city is spending on insurance,” Spence said.

After Chief Spence addressed the council, a number in the audience in attendance asked to be heard and it became so loud in the room that Crane threatened to have individuals removed if they would not be quiet so the council could make its decision.

“You’re making the decision for them,” one female resident called out.

Spence also discussed that the city of Kempner also carried the cost of the reserve officers’ licenses, which, if not kept in place could jeopardize their chances of landing a job somewhere else, such as with the U.S. Marshal’s office in Waco.

“One of them has a tentative possible job and the other is in the process of looking. I want to make sure the council is aware, if there is no reserve program and they are not carrying their commission, that will affect the one officer’s job…my concern is for the officers that they are taken care of,” Spence said.

The motion to deactivate the program had two council members voting for it, with three against deactivating the program, with the 2-3 vote met by applause from those in the room.

 

The grievance

Also part of Tuesday night’s agenda was an agenda item to address a grievance filed by John Wilkerson on April 10. The action to lay off the officers at the May 8 meeting has been called “vendetta” for one of the officers’ wives speaking out at a previous council meeting, as well as the grievance filed against the mayor.

The grievances lodged by Wilkerson included not supporting the Council’s decision to let the Chief run the Police Department, and the mayor having a personal vendetta against Officer McDonald.

"During the Thanksgiving 2017 holidays the Mayor wanted coverage for the city by the Police Department. Officer McDonald worked that day. Officer McDonald, within city policy, recorded the hours he worked on his timesheet and submitted it. The Mayor, seeing these hours, contacted the Chief, stating she was changing the timesheet (as this was not the 'spirit' of the policy) and would be withholding Officer McDonald’s paycheck until such time as he came in and signed the changed timesheet. It should be noted that employees who have made false entries on timesheets have faced potential criminal charges for tampering with a governmental document. The altering of this timesheet to reflect inaccuracies is not only ethically wrong, but could be considered criminal."

Another grievance was regarding communication with the mayor -- which alleged that Crane told McDonald she didn't want to communicate with him via email any longer.

"Since the targeting of Officer McDonald, the Mayor has told the Chief to stop emailing her and to call her about issues. The Public Information Request I have submitted will likely show this is due to the fact it was becoming obvious there was targeting of Officer McDonald, and if it continued in email format, then the evidence would be there to show it," Wilkerson wrote. 

Also, “unknown” documents appeared in the chief’s personnel file and a negative annual evaluation.

"The Chief of Police received negative marks on his annual evaluation, with poor explanation from the Mayor. The Mayor felt the Chief should have disciplined officers, however she was not specific as to the officer or the reason.  
"The Chief of Police also had a document placed in his file regarding what can best be described as a record of counseling. This form is not only completely subjective, but has no option for the employee to respond, especially when the form is placed into the personnel file without the knowledge of the employee."  
 
After a closed session with the city attorney, the council emerged to take no action on the items in the grievance.

 

Kempner's monthly expenses two times its revenue - again

It’s unclear on the details of Kempner’s financial picture at this time, but during Tuesday’s meeting one agenda item was the city’s financial statement for the month ending April 30. For yet another month, Crane said, the city’s monthly expenses were more than double the monthly revenue, with expenses being $31,700 and revenues only being $15,600.

One councilman questioned what the administrative department’s professional fees were for the month, with Crane stating those fees include services for the city attorney, the auditor, and the CPA, which was reportedly $3,600 over budget for the entire fiscal year. According to the city’s budget posted online, Kempner allocated $13,500 for professional fees for the current fiscal year.

The Leader-Press requested copies of Kempner’s monthly financial statements for the calendar year 2018, particularly the April 30 statement discussed during the meeting, but had not received records by press time Thursday.

Also per Kempner's posted 2017-2018 budget, the city expected to receive $379,510 in revenue for the year, but planned for $410,818 in expenditures -- $31,308 more than revenue -- going into the fiscal year.

It is unclear how much the city of Kempner has spent so far, more than seven months into the fiscal year, and how much its revenue has come in, without the financial statements being released.

After the meeting, Crane defended the decision to lay off the two paid part-time officers.

“We projected more (revenue) was going to come in, than has come in,” Crane said. “We’re looking at a couple of different streams that haven’t materialized like we thought…When I started three years ago we had one full-time chief and one part-time. in January 2017, that’s all we had. We knew it was a stretch at the time to add the two part-time officers. There were issues the chief felt we needed to address and I agreed with him. But when the income did not materialize, that is precisely what has put us in the situation we are in.

“We got a financial forecast from the accountant, who has been with the city for 20 years. At this point, the bottom line was, yes, you are in a serious situation and unless you take immediate action, your position will become untenable September 30.”

There was a time for citizens to address the council in open forum, with three minutes for each individual who signed up. However, that time of comment wasn’t held until after the decision was made to keep the reserve police officer program and the majority of the other items on the meeting’s agenda had been voted on.

John Wilkerson, with the Texas Municipal Police Association and also a Kempner resident, addressed the mayor and council during citizens’ time. He also suggested that it might be better to place a time of open comment on the agenda prior to the council voting on matters.

Several others addressed the council, including Livia McDonald, wife of one of the reserve officers. She expressed her thanks for keeping the program in place but also had concerns as to why the budget had issues.

“The budget was to be at least to October. This coming way in advance with the issues, is very suspicious to me. I’m grateful that all these people are here because I would also like to request that before decisions are made that citizens can speak prior to the council making decisions. You’re here to serve the citizens and not someone else.”

Another resident, a retired law enforcement officer, called the idea to remove the officers one of the “dumbest” he’d heard. He was also concerned that “apparently we have an issue someplace here that the money wasn’t spent correctly.”

The Kempner police force was hailed in October 2017, when it made 10 arrests in connection with a methamphetamine investigation, during which officers seized three vehicles, 15 grams of methamphetamine and other narcotics.

 

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