Gunnison, Centerfield link up their law enforcement
Gunnison Valley Police Department is a go, Brett McCall appointed interim police chief
GUNNISON — During a special meeting on Nov. 30, leaders from both Gunnison City and Centerfield finalized the agreement to unify their municipal police departments.
The inter-local agreement, which has been officially in the works for several months and unofficially for nearly two decades, will form the Gunnison Valley Police Department, a new political subdivision of the state of Utah.
Gunnison City Mayor Bruce Blackham said, “If we had done this decades ago, who knows where we could be by now. But we are where we are, and I think we all want to move forward. Our fire department is a good example of the cooperation we have already experienced between our cities.”
Centerfield’s city attorney Steve Styler and Gunnison’s city attorney Mandy Larsen were in attendance to help the two cities clear up the details of the agreement as they prepared to finalize.
The agreement was originally meant to have Mayfield participate as well, but the Mayfield Town Council decided against the agreement, preferring to have its town policed by the Sheriff’s office as long as its small population will allow.
Styler told those in attendance at the meeting that Mayfield could still be folded into the agreement if they ever changed their mind.
Styler also said the agreement was written in a way that if either city decided it wasn’t working for them, the entity could be dissolved and both municipalities could return to independent policing, taking with them any assets either city contributed to the new department.
Now that both cities have fully approved the agreement and both mayors have signed it, the signed documents will be sent to the Lieutenant Governor’s office, where they will be reviewed and approved. Upon approval, Styler said the Gunnison Valley Police Department will become an official entity and work can begin on assembling the governing board, defining the by-laws and choosing a police chief.
According to the agreement, the governing board, which will be known officially as the Gunnison Valley Public Safety Board, will manage and oversee the affairs of the new department.
To establish the board, the agreement defines a process. That process begins with the executive board, made up of mayor Blackham and Centerfield City Mayor Tom Sorensen, who will also sit on the public safety board.
The executive board will each choose a citizen-at-large from their respective communities to bring the public board’s membership up to four. Once the four are assembled, they can begin the process of defining the bylaws (such as how to handle a deadlock voting tie) and picking a chief for the new department.
Once the new chief is selected, he will choose a fifth member of the board from somewhere in Sanpete County. According to the agreement, the appointed chief will serve as a non-voting, advisory member of the board.
While the public safety board term of each mayor would be the remainder of his respective mayoral term, the initial non-mayor members’ terms are staggered. One of the non-mayor board members will serve an initial term of two years; another will serve three and the final initial non-mayor board member will serve a term of four years. At the conclusion of the initial board term, all non-mayor board members shall serve a term of four years.
The appointed chief shall keep his advisory seat on the board for as long as he remains chief of the new unified police department.
Once the full board, bylaws and chief are in place, the chief will decide the positions of the officers that make up the new policing entity, including two new full-time officers to be hired, for which the cities appropriated funds in the new entity’s budget. In total, the agreement has the new department consisting of five full-time officers: a newly appointed chief, a school resource officer and three patrol officers.
It was mentioned at the meeting that Centerfield Police Chief Brett McCall had been helping manage things at the Gunnison City Police Department while Gunnison’s chief Trent Halliday was dealing with the ramifications of recently-diagnosed stage-4 cancer.
Blackham suggested to those in attendance that they consider bringing McCall in as Interim Police Chief until the new entity is created officially at the Lieutenant Governor’s office, and then they could move forward with officially choosing the new chief.
Gunnison Councilman Blane Jensen said, “From a practical standpoint, from here on we will be operating as if the agreement is already in effect. You will see patrol vehicles from both towns in both towns. We can probably expect some questions from the public.”
Before the finalized agreement was signed, mayor Sorensen said he wanted the whole board involved with major personnel decisions. Sorensen also wanted to set a maximum amount the chief can spend without permission from the board.
Since the meeting, McCall has been appointed interim police chief for the new department.
“There is a lot of logistics that need to take place to make it work,” McCall said. “Until the board settles on the new full-time chief, we need to make sure public safety isn’t lacking. There is a lot of stuff still up in the air.”
McCall said he thinks that the biggest hurdle the interlocal agreement faces is making sure the community and its leadership are supportive of it so things can run smoothly.
“These cities have shared a border for many years but in a lot of ways the people still consider themselves separate,” McCall said, “even though we share everything under the Gunnison Valley umbrella. Schools, doctors, a fire department, veterinarians—you name it; we share it. We need a 100 percent buy-in from the people and the city councils to make this all work. We need that support of faith. If we have that, it will work great.”