Oak Creek officials to decide on police force

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— Editor's Note: An unedited version of this story appeared in Friday's Steamboat Today. The edited version appears below.

Oak Creek residents won't vote on how big the Oak Creek Police Department should be.

The Oak Creek Town Board decided Thursday night not to put an advisory question about the size of the police force on the ballot. Instead, the council is expected to discuss the issue at a workshop session.

The board had hoped to use a ballot question to gauge public preference for how many police officers the town needed one, two or three. But the board decided to overturn the June 28 decision to hold the vote. Instead, the board will take limited public input and hold a special meeting to determine the town's police needs.

"I think we can do this in house among the seven of us," Trustee Bill Paxton said.

The Town Board's decision to rethink an election question came after Oak Creek resident and Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak voiced her concerns about the plan.

"The advisory question is only going to cost the town money. We elected you as representatives of this town to make decisions," Stahoviak said. "What you are going to get is an emotional opinion, and that concerns me greatly."

Mayor Cargo Rodeman agreed, saying she felt it was the responsibility of the board to make the decision and suggested taking the issue into executive session.

But Stahoviak said the board could discuss the matter first in a workshop session where it would not have to take public comment, an idea the trustees liked.

The board decided to gather public opinion, do research on levels of police coverage and find more comprehensive statistics on how many officers other small Colorado towns have. Rodeman even agreed to work a three-day, 24-hour shift with interim Police Chief Jason Lunnen.

In other business, two trustees protested a June 27 executive session on the conduct of a suspended police officer.

Paxton and Clyde Moore handed out letters that questioned the board's decision to hold an executive session without notifying Officer David Miller that his conduct would be discussed.

The executive session was held to discuss Miller's conduct at the June 12 meeting where he got into a verbal confrontation with Lunnen. In his letter, Moore stated that nothing would have been compromised if the board had communicated the specific reason for the executive session. The board's decision effectively prevented Miller from his right to request an open meeting.

"After extensive thought on the way this executive session came about, it seems to me that we held a hearing on Officer Miller's conduct without his input or knowledge," Miller said. "Why do some members of the board feel it is necessary to keep this information away from Officer Miller?"

Local residents also said the executive session was unnecessary. Some criticized Rodeman for how she handled the situation.

"(Miller) is still an innocent police officer who, in a lot of people's opinion, is being railroaded out of this town," resident Toni Amrein said.

Rodeman said the executive session had nothing to do with her personal opinions.

"It is not a personal vendetta," Rodeman said. "When you get a complaint, the protocol is to investigate and follow up."

To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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