County Attorney welcomes deal and reveals frustrations with police department
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – A proposed deal to allow a Lee County Sheriff’s Department captain to serve as interim Fort Madison Police Chief will have to wait at least one more week.
Lee County Supervisors discussed the proposal with Fort Madison City Manager David Varley, Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber and County Attorney Ross Braden at Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Also in attendance, but without comment, were Lee County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Will Conlee and Captain Craig Burch, both of whom could be involved in the operations at the Fort Madison PD if the agreement is approved.
However, the supervisors only had the item on for discussion so no action was taken, much to the surprise of Weber, who thought action was going to be taken at the meeting. But several supervisors hedged on taking any action before the agreement was voted on by Fort Madison City Council.
That action is set for today as well, as the Fort Madison City Council meets tonight at 5:30 p.m. with a resolution to approve the agreement on the agenda. The council also amended the agenda Monday to include hiring a search firm to find a replacement for current Chief Tim Sittig who announced his retirement effective May 31.
That announcement prompted Varley and Weber to work up a proposal where the city would pay roughly $50,000 for six months compensation for staff, most likely Burch, to oversee the department. However the city won’t be paying a chief salary so most of that money is allocated in the budget.
The agreement would also offer a small stipend and a backfill payment for the difference in pay between a captain’s pay and anyone who has to step up to fill in for Burch.
Varley said the interim period would be a good time for an objective look at the department.
“Now’s a good chance to get a few months for somebody on the outside to look in and I think that’s good for an organization once in while to have somebody like that come in,” Varley said.
“I have a lot of faith they would do a good job.”
Supervisor Gary Folluo asked if Varley would consider a 3-month agreement and the re-evaluate to see how the agreement is working.
“That’s certainly a fair way to go,” Varley said.
Weber said it’s been no secret that there’s been some struggles in the police department.
“We’ve asked that they have some detectives and work some heavier, more serious cases and those things haven’t been done,” Weber said. “Because of that, the county attorney has asked my department to allocate resources to work cases for the city. So quite frankly, we’ve been doing it anyway.”
Weber said he works with the police officers and has a solid working relationship with Fort Madison.
“This isn’t about going in there and throwing furniture around. Everyone knows that there needs to be some things done differently and to get them done somebody has to get in there. Hard decisions will have to be made and we’ll work together with the staff that’s there,” he said.
Weber said he would have Burch fill the position and Burch would answer to Chief Deputy Will Conlee or Weber himself.
The agreement specifically says elected officials wouldn’t have access to Burch or sheriff’s department staff, but any personnel changes would have to be approved by Varley and city attorney Robert Johnson. Any expenditures of more than $500 would also need city approval.
“I love those guy. There good guys and I work with them, but I don’t want to sling mud. They’re needing someone to come in and get a time out from how it’s running, and what they are looking for, and that time out is us,” Weber said.
“I’m not saying we’re perfect but we’re willing to help.”
County Attorney Ross Braden expanded on the issues in the department.
“There have been some significant problems that I’ve seen as far as major cases specifically,” he said.
“It’s been about a year now that I spoke with Mr. Varley and Mayor (Brad) Randolph about some various specific cases, one at least in which I called in the sheriff to assist. And that turned into a big jurisdictional issue between me and the chief at that time, which was unfortunate to see considering the subject matter of that particular case.”
Braden said in dealing with Keokuk there hasn’t been the need to involve the sheriff due to the existing command structure and the fact that they have their own investigative division.
“I’m very appreciative of Mr. Varley at this point in time at looking to do what’s best for Fort Madison Police Deparrmtment and to evolve by going to Sheriff Weber,” Braden said.
“I think he has the best opportunity to model the ship and look at their existing structure and model that ship after what Stacy runs here at the Sheriff’s department.”