The City of La Monte could soon be contracting with the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services, and the roughly 50 citizens at Tuesday night’s La Monte City Council meeting made it very clear they are opposed to the idea.
The La Monte Police Department is comprised of Chief Mike Hughes plus two officers, although only one of those spots is filled at the moment. Council voted during its September meeting to authorize Mayor Ronnie McNeive to negotiate with the sheriff’s office to provide policing for the city, which in turn means disbanding LMPD.
According to citizens, September’s meeting agenda did not include a space for public comment, usually listed as “Council concerns.” October’s agenda also did not include “Council concerns,” and only included two agenda items; neither involved LMPD.
Angry La Monte citizens turned out in force for October’s meeting to voice concerns about two main things: they want the chance to voice opinions, and that their opinion is to keep LMPD. They were allowed to speak Tuesday.
McNeive told the audience that he signed a contract with Pettis County last week. Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond was in attendance and said the Pettis County Commission will meet later this week to discuss the contract and vote on it.
If approved, Pettis County would begin service Nov. 1 and it would continue until Dec. 31, 2017. Bond said if the agreement goes through, it is his “intent to do it long-term.”
Bond told the Democrat before the meeting that La Monte would be the first city the sheriff’s office would contract with. However, he added that he has been researching the possible contract by talking with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, as it contracts service to all cities in Henry County except Clinton.
While McNeive and the four council members weren’t very forthcoming about the reasons for the law enforcement change, the audience didn’t give them much of a chance to even respond. Going through the agenda took less than three minutes. For the next 75 minutes, citizens yelled at McNeive and the council, talked over each other and interrupted almost everyone.
One citizen asked why La Monte needs to contract with Pettis County.
“The answer is, we can’t seem to keep two people here in the City of La Monte. So we’re looking at this different option,” McNeive replied, as he was cut off by citizens arguing over how long Hughes has worked for LMPD.
“(Hughes) knows how to take care of people (in La Monte),” another citizen said. “We don’t want someone else.”
Bond addressed several misconceptions mentioned during discussions, such as the fact it will be the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office providing law enforcement services to La Monte, not the Sedalia Police Department. He also answered questions about what will happen if the contract is approved.
“This contract is for two full-time officers for the City of La Monte. Deputies will not be responding from elsewhere in the county during those times,” he explained. “Those officers will be stationed here, they will work out of the police department here, we would establish a district office here, and you would be able to come here and those officers will be working full-time, 40 hours a week in the City of La Monte. They would be assigned here to the City of La Monte.”
The assigned deputies would always be the same deputies, with the exception of the first few months while they go through road training; during that time current road deputies would serve in La Monte until the permanent deputies’ training is complete. Bond assured the citizens the new deputies would get to know La Monte and would conduct community policing.
Bond said the sheriff’s office would review calls for service for LMPD and his office to determine the deputies’ shift assignments based on highest times of service need. When they aren’t on duty, just like when current LMPD officers aren’t on duty, law enforcement service would default to the sheriff’s office.
Many people asked if Hughes would be hired as one of the two deputies, but both he and Bond said they’ve discussed the idea and decided it would not be a good idea due to their close, personal friendship.
Hughes said he appreciates all the support he has been shown from La Monte citizens.
“It’s been a pleasure serving all of you,” he said.
Exact numbers were not provided for current costs at LMPD or how much it will cost to contract with Pettis County, but it has been estimated the Pettis County contract will cost $120,000 per year. Citizen Kim Lyne, who is the Pettis County Treasurer, said she obtained LMPD budget numbers from the last few years and she estimates the contract will cost the city $30,000 more than current costs.
Both Bond and McNeive pointed out that the difference includes paying for a significant number of additional resources the sheriff’s office provides that the city does not, and that the cost of patrol cars could affect the number since cars are not purchased every year.
Bond also said there is no financial benefit to the sheriff’s office, other than hiring two more deputies.
“This is an opportunity to provide more services to La Monte, where we already serve,” he said.
Once the meeting was adjourned, the Democrat inquired about asking McNeive or other council members questions about the policing decision. The Democrat was told by Councilwoman Wanda Bishop they didn’t have time for any more questions, as they needed to proceed with the closed session with their attorney. McNeive allowed for one question from the Democrat: Why is contracting with the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office the best option for the City of La Monte?
After considering an answer and then getting advice from Bishop, McNeive said he had no comment, but would talk with the Democrat once the contract was finalized.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.