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Unanswered questions remain about Troutdale contract with sheriff's office

EDITOR'S NOTE: This commentary was first published in The Outlook print edition and online on March 20, 2015. It is reposted here at the request of Troutdale City Councilor Dave Ripma.

The Troutdale City Council is being asked to disband our largest city department and contract out our most important civic responsibility without sufficient information or public input.

The Troutdale Police Department is respected and supported by our citizens. In 2010, in the midst of a recession, Troutdale voters passed a $7.5 million bond measure to build a new police station. Our police department is important to Troutdale's livability and identity. Yet we are being asked to close down the Troutdale Police and turn law enforcement over to the Multnomah County Sheriff Office under an intergovernmental agreement, which is being put to an up-or-down vote of the City Council on March 24.

Troutdale Councilor Dave RipmaThe Troutdale Council held a public "work session" about the agreement on March 3. Prior to that work session, there had not been any public work sessions or council updates about the IGA since May 2014. No other work sessions or opportunities for the public to learn about the agreement are scheduled.

Something this important should not be done without public input and clear answers about how it will work.

Questions were raised at the March 3 work session about how more law enforcement could be provided for less money and we were told it had to do with filling currently funded vacancies, which raised more questions.

Detailed answers were promised about how, exactly, it might work. On March 12, city staff sent the council more than 100 pages of budget numbers and work-session slides, but the question of how Troutdale is supposed to get more personnel, making more money, while paying for fewer personnel, still has not been answered.

My concern is this: If we pay less, it is logical we will get less.

Is that what Troutdale citizens want and deserve?

Before the council makes such a decision we need a clear explanation about how it will work.

The agreement guarantees our current patrol personnel and chief will continue to work at their present positions for the first six months only. After that, Sheriff Dan Staton will determine deployment under guidelines set out in the agreement.

I do not question the sheriff's commitment to good law enforcement, but he has responsibilities to more than just Troutdale.

After the agreement takes effect in July, Troutdale will have no employees with professional law enforcement experience. Will the city be able to properly assess if service levels or response times for calls have declined?

The agreement promises large cost savings, but also permits the county to charge Troutdale for "discretionary overtime" for policing special events, and to charge more for "service level adjustments." These could easily cut into or eliminate any promised savings.

Troutdale police officers appear to strongly favor the agreement, and I do not blame them because they will join the Sheriff's Office at higher pay with new opportunities. But the elected mayor and council owe Troutdale citizens a decision based on facts and what is best for the city as a whole.

My objection to the process Troutdale is following is the staff is not asking enough questions, the public is not being consulted, and the council's questions are not being answered.

Staff reports and the public presentations in April and May 2014 and March 2015 were entirely laudatory.

Basically, we were told the agreement is good and everybody will get paid more and it saves money.

Excuse me, but it does not add up. As I said at the March 3 work session, I can still be convinced this is good for Troutdale, but we need much more information and public involvement.

David Ripma is a member of the Troutdale City Council.