What level of public safety is needed and is there money to meet that need?
The compound question brings focus to a major public safety issue facing the Wood Heights Aldermanic Board – the issue of cost.
The other question, targeting the same major public safety issue, is this: If there is a dangerous situation in the city – a man shooting at a family member or a neighbor, or a fatality wreck at Highways 10 and O – does the community want an immediate or an eventual response?
The question goes to the issue of how much public safety Wood Heights residents desire.
On April 17, 2018, the board acted recklessly, showing contempt for the public and Missouri law. The board, in a meeting that banned public observation, voted to disband the police department.
The board may have had noble intentions regarding the vote. Members may have believed they could not continue to pay four or five part-time law enforcers, including the chief, to work a combined total of just 40 hours per week, in addition to providing space for them to operate and police gear.
But if board members had good intentions, they undermined their credibility by making their decision in a sneaky way, behind closed doors.
Then, they tried to defend the decision to the people they banned from the meeting. Doing so failed. Predictably.
The public, led by Darren Hart, sued the aldermanic board. Hart had the Missouri Attorney General’s Office on his side. The state looked at the Missouri Sunshine Law, looked at how the board obviously violated that law and with those facts whipped the city in court.
As a result of the “consent judgment” entered by Circuit Judge Kevin Walden, the city must take a public revote on whether to disband the department. How the five-member board – with one new member, a new mayor and a vacancy – will vote on the issue is hard to say. But, based on state rules, the two holdover aldermen have the upper hand. If both vote again for disbandment, then they win, 2-1, because Mayor Frank Davitt cannot vote and they have blocked his attempts to fill the board vacancy.
For those who support Aldermen Bernard Allen and Mark Ragar, a vote to confirm disbandment would mean the city would not have to pay part-time officers to protect the city.
For those who support Davitt and Alderwoman Kathy Hart, a vote to confirm disbandment would mean city protection remains in the hands of the already overworked, spread-too-thin Ray County Sheriff’s Office.
Aldermanic board members are set to vote on the issue Monday, Aug. 19.
In the meantime, voters should make their preference – yes or no on disbandment – clear to their elected leaders.