2 Forest Lake Council Members Question Mayor's Decision to Remove Police Department

May 09, 2017 12:37 PM

On Monday, the Forest Lake City Council voted to disband the police department. The vote was 3 to 2. Mayor Ben Winnick was booed after he provided a tie-breaking vote. He said contracted policing is a growing trend.

"If you look through Washington County's proposal you are going to see a lot of services that we can simply not afford to provide," Winnick said. "This is a really rare example that we can get the city and the county working together."

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The meeting was packed with residents in support of the police department.

RELATED: Forest Lake Votes to Dissolve Police Department

Some people held signs that read: "Citizens Opposed to Police Shutdown."

Al Houge, who lives in Forest Lake, said he will continue to fight for the officers.

"We will fight to keep our police officers all the way," Houge said.

Karen Morehead is also a resident of Forest Lake.

"I am shocked to lose the local control of our wonderful police," Morehead said. "Not one of them is listening to the police department."

Over the weekend, city council members called for an emergency meeting with the Forest Lake Police Department to hash out last minute negotiations in the proposal. Sean Gormley, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Labor Services in Minnesota, represented the police union at the meeting. He said the city proposed drastic changes that the union voted against.

"We were presented with a proposal and language changes to the contract that were quite drastic," Gormley said. "It were quite damaging to the collective bargaining process."

The proposed changes included getting rid of retiree health benefits and allowing shift assignments to be made based on preference and not on seniority. The mayor said the offer was good.

"It was a great offer to the police department and I'm very disappointed that they rejected it," the mayor said. " It was a good proposal and I do not think there is any more we can offer them."

Council member Mike Freer commented on the council’s attempt to reach an agreement with the Forest Lake Police Department.

"I thought the proposal reached this weekend was decent." Freer said. "To me, this was the council showing that we wanted to work something out. The police department themselves voted no and that is the decision that they made."

The mayor has said time and time again that the move to disband the Forest Lake Police Department will be a cut in costs and not services, saving the city about $400,000 a year. He said the city and the county will start working together and residents will start to see more police patrols once everything moves forward.

"Washington County is strongly encouraged to hire existing Forest Lake staff and the county is encouraged to establish a preference for hiring Forest Lake police officers," Winnick said. "We will start to see a 30 percent increase in the amount of patrols."

Council member Mara Bain, questioned the validity of that comment: "Where in the contract does it say that or say what patrols will exist?"

Council member Sam Husnik voted against the proposal. He said the proposal needs more time and consideration.

"It seems to me that this was a short time for anyone to make that kind of decision," Husnik said.

The resolution will now move to the Washington County Board of Commissioners, who will ultimately decide what will happen to nearly 25 officers on the force. If the board agrees to disband the department, the change would take effect on Sept. 1, 2017. 

Credits

Cleo Greene

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