New contract limits duties of city’s answering service
The Tonganoxie City Council approved a contract Monday with the J&M Answering Service manned by former Mayor Mike Vestal, which strips away much of its duties but keeps its compensation at $14,000 a year.
With the new contract, employees of the answering service are to forward only administrative calls to the police department. All service or emergency calls are to be forwarded to the Leavenworth County dispatch via 911 calls.
“A lot of the responsibilities the service once had have been eliminated,” said Police Chief Jeff Brandau, who wrote the contract after consultation with Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Office. “One of the things we need to get across to the public is that if you have an emergency, you need to call 911. When the answering service calls Leavenworth County dispatch, they are getting third-party information. They’re saying they want to talk with the reporting party so they can determine the proper level of response.”
The contract also includes a confidentiality clause. Violation of the clause is cause for immediate termination of the contract. In addition, answering service employees no longer have the authority to request driver’s license, vehicle registration or want and warrant information from the county.
In addition to handling administrative calls for the police department, the answering service will continue to schedule shifts when officers are unable to work, take messages for on-call or off-duty officers, handle animal control calls and call out water department employees for after-hour calls.
In response to a question from the council, Brandau said those duties made the $14,400 annual contract worthwhile. Scheduling shifts can be a time-consuming process that would take him or someone else in the department away from other duties, he said.
The question of the answering service’s worth was raised last summer during the council’s 2011 budget deliberations and again when Vestal resigned as mayor after it was learned he used a city computer to send an e-mail containing obscene material.
The answering service was retained when then-Police Chief Kenny Carpenter said the service was worthwhile.
With Brandau concurring Monday with that assessment, the council voted, 4-1, to approve the contract with Councilwoman Paula Crook voting no, as she did during the budget considerations.
In another issue complicated by 2011 budget decisions, the council agreed to appoint a committee to help guide the city’s search of a new city public works superintendent to replace the retiring Butch Rodgers.
The council adopted a policy in June that states it “may” appoint such a committee to provide professional expertise when filling its supervisory positions and made use of such a committee during the search for a new police chief.
However, when the 2011 budget was being prepared in June and July, it was assumed an in-house candidate would be promoted to public works director. That would allow the city to operate one employee short in 2011 and to pay the public works director’s $85,000 in salary and compensation from water and sewer utility funds and not the mill levy-supported general fund.
Such a plan, which would have promoted utility supervisor Kent Heskett, was presented on Monday, but failed on a vote of 3-3, when Mayor Jason Ward agreed with Councilmen Bill Peak and Chris Donnelly that the city needed to stay consistent in its hiring policy.
“This isn’t about any city employee; this is about consistency,” Peak said. “This is not against Kent, but this is a terrible position to be put in.”
Ward said the committee was named for the police chief search to keep politics out of that decision. He agreed it should be the policy for all supervisory searches to ensure transparency.
It was a position Crook and Councilman Andy Gilner supported, but they were willing to make an exception because of the earlier budget-based decision. When the motion to promote from within failed to pass, they supported a council policy of appointing committees to help with all supervisory openings.
City Administrator Mike Yanez said he would have recommendations on who should serve on the committee at the council’s Dec. 20 meeting.
In other business, the council:
• Approved hiring of Jeremiah Howell as a full-time police officer. He will replace Danny Huff, who resigned to pursue additional education.
• Named David Frese to the library board position open after the resignation of Starla Jones.
• Named Robert Bieniecki to the Planning Commission seat, which opened when Bill Peak was named to the city council.
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