Dec. 25 , 2006

Dassel Police disbanded, city to contract with Meeker County

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

The Dassel City Council disbanded the city’s police department last Monday.

Effective Sunday, Dec. 31, the city will contract for protection from Meeker County Sheriff’s office for six months at approximately $35 an hour.

“It’s purely monetary,” said Mayor Ava Flachmeyer about the decision.

Flachmeyer estimated eliminating the police department might save the city up to $40,000 by contracting with the county.

Neither Maria Pipal, the Dassel Police Chief, nor full-time officer Steve Lecy will be getting severance pay, nor benefits, past the Dec. 31 cut off.

Flachmeyer said Pipal has been chief for only two years and Lecy has been full time for only one year, Flachmeyer said. Dassel’s newest officer, Ashley Byers, just came on board part time this fall.

No mention was made of an investigation the council has conducted recently into complaints about the police department.

City Administrator Myles McGrath declined to comment on details about the complaints because they pertain to personnel issues, he said.

The change affected the 2007 budget and levy. The 2007 levy will be $455,933, the same as the 2006 levy.

The preliminary 2007 levy originally was intended to be a 5 percent increase over the 2006 levy.

City Council Member Bob Lalone voted against both disbanding the police department, and lowering the levy and 2007 city budget, now at $983,023.

Lalone declined to say why he voted against both measures.

However, the measure wasn’t on the agenda of last Monday’s regular city council meeting until she added it after the meeting began.

Also, the preliminary 2007 levy was approved back in September. No council members indicated in the following weeks that they thought the 5 percent increase in the levy was out of line.

Council Member Al Dunn suggested evaluating after six months whether contracting with the county is working, and if Dassel residents prefer having their own police officers over sheriff’s deputies patrolling the city.

Other issues as well

Meanwhile, the police also are investigating an incident that occurred recently. Someone impersonating McGrath, called the Hennepin County Central Motor Pool, and complained about Dassel’s part-time officer, Jeffrey Ho.

The impersonator claimed Ho was using a Hennepin County vehicle inappropriately, Pipal told the council.

“The caller knew a fair amount of detail about me, including my location at the time of the call, and that I work as a police officer for the City of Dassel,” Ho said in a letter to McGrath.

Ho was in Dassel teaching a class to Byers, the new police officer. The use of the vehicle by Ho in Dassel was in compliance with approved policy, according to Ho’s supervisor, Martin VanBuren, director of EMS, Hennepin County Medical Center. In addition to being a part-time Dassel police officer, Ho is a medical doctor.

Another personnel issue the city council approved last Monday, before the 2007 budget and levy were formally adopted, was compensation adjustments for city employees.

The personnel committee recommended all city employees receive a 3 percent cost of living raise. Those whose performance evaluations show they deserve a merit increase will receive a 2 percent raise at the discretion of their department heads.

The council also added a full-time maintenance worker position to the public works department effective Monday, Jan. 1. Previously the position was part time. This will make four full-time employees for that department.

Part of the reason for this is because of needs pertaining to the waste water treatment plant, McGrath said.

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