BUTLER TWP. – The Butler Township Trustees refused to reconsider their decision to disband the Township’s police department despite facing an angry, standing-room only crowd on Monday evening.
The police discussion overshadowed what otherwise might have been a reason for celebration as Erika Vogel was elevated to Township Administrator. Vogel was awarded a one year contract at an annual salary of just over $96,000.
Vogel has served as the Acting Administrator since former Administrator Kim Lapensee resigned under pressure in January.
Those in attendance were laser-focused on the police decision, however. The trustees votes at their May 9 meeting to begin negotiations with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office for police services.
That contract would save the Township approximately $26,944 per year compared to the current year police budget.
The proposal would see Butler and Harrison Township share a captain, administrative assistant, 4.5 sergeants, and three COP deputies who would patrol across jurisdictions. Butler Township would have nine deputies assigned to Butler Township alone who would not be shared with other jurisdictions.
The estimated annual cost for 2016 would be $1.63 million and rise to $1.86 million in 2020.
Trustee Mike Lang has been outspoken in his opposition to the plan and criticized the speed in which the decision was made.
“We got the proposals on Thursday or Friday, and then voted on it after 30 minutes of discussion on the next Monday,” said Lang. He then questioned whether fellow Trustees Nick Brusky and Joe Flanagan had violated open meetings laws by discussing the matter between themselves.
“How many times did you and Joe talk about this beforehand,” asked Lang. “You were in lockstep with Joe the entire time.”
Brusky denied any conversations.
He and Flanagan, who out-voted Lang 2-1 to contract with the Sheriff’s Office, were the frequent target of the residents’ anger.
“Never have I seen this many people here disgraced and offended at the actions of the Board of Trustees,” said resident Keith Knisley.
Knisley used words from Brusky’s blog to argue that contracting with the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t square with Brusky’s preference of local government.
“When residents show up at our meetings we listen,” wrote Brusky on his blog nickbruskydotcom.wordpress.com. “People who live in smaller jurisdictions have more political clout. Eliminate this decentralization and what was once a citizen becomes a mere number.”
“If you were truly listening your actions are showing that you simply must be ignoring us,” said Knisley. “We are now transferring our policing to an elected official who answers to over 500,000 people, or 67 times more than those who live in Butler Township.”
John Ellis took offense at Flanagan saying one needed to get “above the noise” on the issue.
“I’ve lived in this area for 30 years, I pay my taxes, and I really don’t think that we appreciate citizen’s comments being referred to as noise,” he said drawing applause from the audience.
At the May 12 meeting, many residents said they would attempt to overturn the decision by referendum, but quickly learned that was impossible because township voters defeated a Limited Home Rule measure last fall.
Under Ohio law, residents in townships can initiate referendum only if they have a Limited Home Rule form of government.
Resident Beth Cooper asked the trustees to put Limited Home Rule on the November ballot which Brusky and Lang agreed to discuss. Both supported the measure last fall.
Cooper then asked the trustees to hold off on a final decision on the police department until residents could vote on Limited Home Rule.
“As far as I’m concerned, we are in the transition phase and I won’t vote to put it on the ballot,” said Flanagan.
Brusky said he was “for home rule, but I won’t reverse my position” on the police decision.
During the meeting the trustees also voted to extend the contract for the services of Chief Deputy Rob Streck as Acting Police Chief. The current contract was set to end May 31 but was extended to July 31.
Vogel said that the township hopes to have the negotiations with the Sheriff’s Office completed this summer.