Oak Creek seeks compromise

Businesses, residents, police hope worst is behind them

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Oak Creek Town Board agenda

7 p.m. today

Oak Creek Town Hall

1. Call to order

2. Roll call

3. Pledge of allegiance

4. Audience participation

(This section of the agenda is set aside for questions or comments by the public, regarding issues other than agenda items. Please limit comments to three minutes. Anyone who would like to address the Board concerning any agenda item will be given the opportunity to speak once for one minute at the scheduled time for that item.)

5. Consideration of the agenda

6. Speakers: South Routt Library District re: renewal of Quit Claim Deed to Town Lots

7. Hearing: Bonfiglio Drug Liquor License Renewal

8. Approval of the minutes, Aug. 14, 2008

9. General business (Action Items)

A. Reports or items of concern from Board members

B. Hockey Rink Roof

C. Water Tank Pricing for Repair

D. Furnace Installation at Town Shop

E. Comprehensive Plan Update

F. Electric Utility Update

G. Sewer Line Replacement Project Update

H. Community Police Matters

I. Police Policies and Standard Operating Procedures

J. Staff Reports

10. Adjournment

— One week after a majority of Oak Creek businesses signed off on an open apology to their customers for the actions of the town's police department, business owners seem to share the sentiment that the tide is turning - hopefully for the better.

Nearly a year after the Oak Creek Police Department was reformed, the town still is wrestling with how its police officers and community members can get on the same page. The department has both an ardent group of supporters and an angry gang of naysayers who repeatedly have professed that the only solution is to run the department's leadership out of Oak Creek. And there are a whole bunch of residents who fall somewhere in the middle.

"It's this classic stalemate," town Trustee Josh Voorhis said.

"Right here in Oak Creek, we're divided pretty evenly on this issue. Some people can only see one answer, and others resent having to even ask the question. Yet, for the Town Board to take care of business, there is no easy answer," Trustee Gerry Greenwood said. "But there is going to be an answer. There is an end."

At the heart of the issue is a police department led by Chief Russ Caterinicchio that some say finally is enforcing laws and providing a strong local presence, while others say the department is meddling, intimidating and overzealous.

The dispute has dragged on for so many months and been so polarizing that even business owners who hold positive or neutral views of the Oak Creek Police Department say that something's got to give.

"I'm not one to make waves and get in the middle of things. I like to work and go home. It's a shame that it has escalated to this," said Tina Zywicki, owner of Dinty Moore's Family Restaurant. "I'm hoping this will wake everyone up, and we can all just get along."

"By and large, if most of the people in town think there is a problem, the board has to deal with it," Bonfiglio Drug owner David Bonfiglio said.

Caterinicchio declined to comment for this article.

Bad for business?

Area business owners, primarily bars and restaurants, have identified Oak Creek's police presence as the reason for lost customers and decreasing revenues. Last week, 25 business owners signed their names to an open apology to "customers who feel they have been treated rudely or unfairly by the Oak Creek Police Department." The apology stated they will continue to work with the Town Board to rectify their concerns.

"Some of us were hearing from our customers that they were uncomfortable making the trip to town," Bonfiglio said. "The fact that this (feeling) exists, in an economy like we're in now where every penny counts : we felt that as a business community we wanted to let our customers know that we were working with the board to come up with a solution, and that they weren't being forgotten or left out."

Bonfiglio declined to discuss specifics, saying he did not want to jeopardize progress that has been made recently.

"I think the board is talking and listening to the business community as well as the community at large," Bonfiglio said. "We have some sanity back in the equation. We're starting to get a sense that maybe we can come toward some solution or solutions."

Although Zywicki said she has no problem with the police force, and that all her dealings with its officers have been positive, she had to sign the open apology because former customers have told her "they feel they've been wronged" by the police and steer clear of Oak Creek because of it.

"Oak Creek does need a police force, they just need to pick their battles," Zywicki said. "We have to have somebody, otherwise it would be chaos."

However, not everyone thinks there is room to negotiate with the department's current leadership.

"It's just gone too far," Elk's Tavern owner Shirley Montieth said. "We used to have a nice little friendly town here. (Caterinicchio) thinks he's king, and everyone should bow and listen to him. He won't be happy until every bar in town is shut down.

"The Town Board needs to wake up and get rid of him," she said.

Seeking solutions

"Nobody really has a way out of this right now. We're just completely boxed," Voorhis said. "If you were to completely disband the police department, you would give all the power to a small group of vocal people. But if you don't change something, we can't continue to status quo forever."

The end result of that status quo is that nearly every Town Board meeting in recent months has turned into what Voorhis termed a "gripe session," negating real discussion or progress on police problems or anything else.

"Every day, there is more to take care of, and you can't dwell on any one thing all the time," Greenwood said. "What we're looking at right now is tearing up the streets, taking care of the collection system for the sewer plant. Then next year, the sewer plant is on the table. Then we have a budget meeting coming up, and that whole cycle starts.

"The town needs to resolve these differences and take care of some of the more important things that we need to deal with, instead of these distractions," Greenwood said.

"I'm hoping the public has some middle-ground ideas that we can use to move forward," Voorhis said. "I think all of us on the board would be very interested in hearing a solution."

Comments

Scott Wedel 6 years, 3 months ago

I see the great divide being among 3 groups of people.

There are the people that support the police and do not care about allegations of police misconduct.

There are the people that do not want police.

There are the people that want police protection, but they want it to be professional and lawful. I think that is the category of most of the business owners whom have invested money and time into OC and want it to be protected, but do not want a police force that drives customers away.

I think the current challenge for Chief Russ is to show that he is professional competent Police Chief. He needs to explain why when requested for a copy of the OCPD Taser policy that he then faxed a Jan 1, 2008 policy that neither police commissioner had seen before. He needs to explain why he had another Jan 1, 2008 Taser policy that he had previously given to the police commissioners as his suggestion for the new OCPD Taser policy. He needs to explain why he took a copy of his proposed Taser policy from a reporter and destroyed it. Something proposed by the Chief to be discussed in public and voted on by the Town Board is in no ways a confidential or internal document.

He needs to explain why he told the Town Board that they cannot speak on topics directly or indirectly related to Cargo's case and his explanation cannot be vague "liability issues" but specific, preferably based upon a legal opinion from a lawyer.

He should explain his claim that he was "misquoted" by the newspaper when the topic was that he made biased comments prior to completing the internal review of Erik Foster's arrest of Cargo. He should say what he thinks he said and what he meant.

To put it simply, he needs to explain himself and his actions to show that he is an honorable honest police chief and not a crook that makes up laws and documents. He has done too many things recently that appear to be attempts to cover up and if he cannot convincingly explain himself then he needs to resign or be fired.

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Ed Miklus 6 years, 3 months ago

I often wonder about the behavioral, moral and ethical standards in our country. Have we become such a pliable society that we are willing to accept, or even discuss accepting, lying, obfuscation, stealing, intimidation, a disregard for our Constitutional protections from an individual who has taken an oath of office to serve as a chief law enforcement officer of a community? Do we give the "benefit of the doubt" no matter the egregiousness of actions of indivduals who should be held to the highest standards of behavior? In our society, does anything go?

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