Trinity Sass (left) and her cousin, Taylor Lillpop, join their dads in asking the Avon Park city council to keep the police department, instead of bringing in the sheriff's office.
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published: Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Residents rally for APPD
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
AVON PARK -- About 30 people rallied outside city council chambers Monday night in support of keeping the police department open.
Participants have concerns because the council is researching the possibility of closing the department and bringing in the Highlands County Sheriff's Office in its place.
"They (the officers) always look out for us. When we call them they are right there. One of our clerks had a stroke and help was there within five minutes. We're worried the sheriff's office would take longer," said Mary Weaver, who manages the Hess Station on U.S. 27.
Weaver also said that the Avon Park officers make an effort to connect with the public. "I was having trouble with my son," she said, "and they were there with me every step of the way."
"As a resident here I want to save the police department," said Frank Mazza, another demonstrator. "I want the opportunity to make the decision. As taxpayers I think we should have the right to vote (on the issue)."
Should the sheriff's office be brought in under a contract, there would be no referendum. The decision would be made by the city council alone.
Mazza said residents are willing to pay the costs of a local department. Most city residents for example, he said, supported the fire assessment a few years ago because they wanted a local service. "We took it and paid the money," he said.
Mazza said the police department has vastly improved and gained a reputation for looking out for city residents.
"Everyone says to be careful through town, you better slow down or you'll get a ticket. It makes our streets safer," he said.
Hiram Obregon, who was at the rally with his wife and is an Avon Park officer, said, "We're willing to negotiate with the council. We're willing to relieve the burden on the city. We just want a chance to be heard."
During the council meeting, the subject was not on the agenda, but citizens wanted to address the issue and did so during the citizen participation portion of the meeting.
Most described the personal connection they have with patrolling officers and the department, which they are afraid would be lost with the sheriff's larger organization. Response times were also a major concern.
Former mayor Tom Macklin addressed three different points.
Code enforcement had not been mentioned in the sheriff's proposal, he said, but is a part of the police department. He asked what provisions were going to made for that.
He is also concerned that the city had not laid out enough specific criteria for the sheriff to address in her proposal.
"Was she told we'd like to have X number of officers patrolling within municipal boundaries of Avon Park (and at what specific hours), or was it a situation where we'd like you to take over the police department, or a portion of it, and please let us know what you would charge to do that?" he asked
Mayor Sharon Schuler replied, "The city council just made the recommendation for the city manager to go out and get a proposal from the sheriff's office. I don't know the particulars about the code enforcement, but
"I think we are definitely in negotiations with our police officers, so I could not comment one way or the other on what's going to happen to whatever."
She added, "the city manager, as we all know, runs the city. It's important that the city council doesn't run the city, so he was given direction by the council to go and get a proposal from the sheriff's office, and that's what we have."
Macklin responded by saying there is a difference in going out for a contract -- where the city specifically lists what is needed and the contractor fulfills those requirements for an agreed upon sum.
But, Macklin said, "It would appear to me that we are not talking about contract services, but we are talking about a transfer of power and when you look into the Florida constitution there are very different criteria assigned to the obligations of the municipality and the electors when it comes to contract services and transfer of power."
He referred back to the switch from local dispatchers to a central dispatch run by the sheriff's office. "That was something that was just given away," Macklin said.
"The supervising capacities and control over dispatchers just disappeared, and frankly that was a violation of the constitution of the state of Florida, because when you transfer power to another entity, it has to go before the electorate of the city -- (who have to agree) yes, this is something we are willing to give up -- and then go before the electors in the county at large -- yes, we'll accept it. That's the dual referendum issue."
Schuler said, "I'm not sure that is a decision that the city council makes, but I can assure we will look at every avenue to be sure we are in compliance If it's a contractual agreement it will be spelled out for us and anyone who needs the information. We'll make sure it goes public."
City Manager Julian Deleon announced some changes in upcoming meetings.
The Saturday, July 28, workshop has been canceled. There will be a special budget meeting on Aug. 4 to discuss the police department. The Wednesday meeting July 11 is at 5 p.m.
That meeting will focus on the police and fire pension board. There will be presentations by, among others, the Florida League of Cities.
There will be another rally in support of the police department before the July 11 meeting.
Well! (by: morefoodforthought - 7/12/2012)
Maybe they can't. We know our police department does do a really good job for us and they know the need of the community. We have no idea what kind of service the Sheriff's Office is going to provide and I for one do not want to take that chance!!
your right brother in blue (by: Mr. Concern - 7/12/2012)
Yes brother in blue I agree with you! get rid of the city manager and put the elected mayor to work, she needs to start doing her job, because right now all she do is say do this and then compleatly denied knowing anything about it, she needs to get out of the Hotel Jacaranda and start working for the city intead of the college, but why would she do that when she has maria sutherland, deleon, and all of those brown noses right behind her butt, There is so many cuts the city can do to unnecesarry help and over pay people in the worthless city managing!!! I feel sorry for all the police officers that had been throught the rought patch of bad apples and then the drama with rowand and the city council, now they want to get rid of them,, again shame on you deleon I wish some one do the same to your family and you can experience the pain your causing all these families!!!
Sherrif Dept taking over (by: Susan - 7/12/2012)
I understand the discomfort that surrounds this situation but in Polk County a couple of years ago in Fort Meade this same situation presented itself. The residents were like here in Avon Park but they Sherrif Dept did take over the police department, and most of the officers were made Deupties and used the same police station as one of their sub-stations. Also Deputies were assigned to that station so that in the event response was needed, they were there in the area so residents would not have to wait any longer than they would for the local police to respond. It's hard to look at the bigger picture here, the Sherrif's Department has many more resources to provide and support the City of Avon Park, remember in the end we all live in Highlands County and that is what the Sherrif cares about. Sherrif Benton does a great job and cares about Highlands County
Well... (by: foodforthought - 7/11/2012)
Maybe the sheriffs can do a better job in A.P.
Voice (by: Fred - 7/11/2012)
The citizens need to make their voice be heard! Call or e-mail the City Manager and City Council members and / or go to the council meeting to let them know you want YOUR police department!!
Concerned AP CItizen (by: Patti - - 7/11/2012)
I can't believe we will cut our police department, we need to get back to basics ... Get rid of the City Manager position and let the Mayor run the town. This is a small town we do not need more chiefs than indians. Cut City Councils pay, there could be lots of budget cuts but not the Police Department ...I mean really - what is next AP
Deleonmobile (by: Brother in Blue - 7/11/2012)
The Jeep he drives was purchased by the city of AP. He drives it back and forth to Lake Placid at tax payers cost. How many police officers get to drive their cars that far?
police (by: Mr. concern - 7/11/2012)
It's messed up that the city, on the budget cutting crap thinks about cutting the people the keep us safe and keep order in the city and the outer skirts of the city!!! you don't do cuts on police department nor the fire department!! what about those ridiculous wage like city manager, just bought a brand new jeep, yeah he can afford it because the amount of money issue for him is comming from the police!! cut his pay this is a small town it's not a big city where ofcourse the salary can cover for what he do!!! there is plenty of area you could do cuts in the same council and city managers and assitance, are they going to keep the city right!! upps I forgot he doesn't live in the city!!!
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