Tuesday night's review of the corporate strategic plan by the town council took a surprising turn when Councilor Robert Henley proposed an amendment calling for an external audit of the police department.
The plan, once adopted by the council, provides the policy framework for the year.
Other members of the council questioned the necessity of an external audit and the grounds for Henley's suggestion.
Henley told the Roundup that an incident between the police department, the Gila County Sheriff's office and the Department of Public Safety in October, prompted him to raise the issue of an external audit.
"Especially that report with an allegation of criminal wrongdoing by our police chief -- those charges should generate something," Henley said. "Somebody should look into it."
Henley was referring to a confidential report, given to the press by Mayor Ken Murphy that dealt with an internal investigation by the Gila County Sheriff's office prompted by allegations by Police Chief Gordon Gartner that two Gila County Narcotics Task Force agents may have deliberately compromised service of a search warrant in a drug manufacturing case.
In the report, the sheriff's office responded with its own accusations against the police department.
After the release of the report, Murphy --ho has had previous run-ins with the police, including his November arrest for domestic violence -- pushed to have the report addressed in an executive session at a special Feb. 18 town council meeting. Murphy was unsuccessful due to the objections of other council members on the legality of the session.
The issue came up again at the April 29 special meeting to discuss the strategic plan. When Town Manager Fred Carpenter directed the council to review the section on the police department, Henley posed a question to Gartner and to the council.
"Would you be agreeable to adding an objective for us to consider an audit or certification review?" enley asked. Gartner said that while the certification or accreditation process is not a bad thing, it is time-consuming and expensive.
"Today we created an internal audit team," Gartner said, "and we have updated our policy manual."
Since Carpenter was given the responsibility to oversee the police department, he and Gartner have been working closely to make improvements to the department.
"Fred and I do communicate almost everyday," Gartner said. "I do a pretty good job on keeping him up to speed on what's happening in the department."
"I understand the relationship is going very well," Councilor Judy Buettner said. "You are keeping each other informed and changes have been made. 'm not opposed to an audit but I'm not convinced that it is needed and because of the changes that have already occurred."
Councilor Dick Wolfe inquired about the cost of an external audit.
"You could spend anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000," Carpenter said. "That is something you would decide in the budgeting process. t's a tough budget year and if we are going to do this, there will be costs."
"When we had our dialog about the majority vote, one of the basic issues was to let the town manager do his job," Buettner said. "It's going very well and I'd like to see him continue."
Councilor Bryan Siverson concurred.
"I don't think we need anything here," Siverson said. "We changed this organizational structure and if we need an audit of the police department, it should come from the town manager not through us up here micro-managing -- let him do his job."
Murphy, who had been quiet throughout discussions, began to express his view on the notion of an external audit of the department.
"There needs to be some oversight or some review from another place." Murphy said.
"I think oversight is a positive thing," Henley said. "I guess I'm looking for an external review or whatever nice words you want to use to word it, but I think it should be focused on the police department."
"I'd prefer to audit our police department before we have a major incident," Murphy said. "I think it would vindicate the police department if it comes out that there are any complaints from any other agencies or the public. hese things are positive -- it's not a witch hunt."
"I can't see hiring an outside agency for any cost figures because we assume our department is going to screw up," Wolfe argued. "That's an assumption that should not be made. They have not screwed up. It's a department to be proud of. We have an experienced town manager who has the ability to supervise these agencies and if there are any problems, he can deal with them."
Gartner requested a final word to the council before leaving the meeting.
"May I make one parting comment before I leave?" Gartner began. "No matter how you cut it, an audit is going to be viewed as a negative connotation -- period. ask you to be careful because this is something that will affect the morale of the police department -- I'm not talking about me, but the officer in the field.
Gartner also reiterated the cost of an external audit.
"It's going to be expensive," Gartner said. "I calculate between $50,000 and $100,000. just think it's important that we take that into consideration."
The exact language that will be added to the strategic plan, according to Carpenter, is still under discussion.
"It will probably be something such as ‘explore the possibility of an external audit' -- but not much more than that."
Carpenter said that he will propose, at the May 8 town council meeting, a series of public discussions regarding police policies.
"If the majority of the council is in favor of this, we will have some study sessions to discuss issues such as when to cite and release and when to arrest," Carpenter said. "We can take a look at police department policy and have some input from the public."
The final draft of the corporate strategic plan will come before the council at the May 22 meeting. own council meetings are held every other Thursday at 6 p.m. at town hall and are open to the public.