Fountain Green votes to contract with Sanpete County Sheriff’s office
By Marcy Curtis
FOUNTAIN GREEN– After three meetings in the past month to consider what to do now that their only officer has taken another job, the Fountain Green City Council voted 5-0 last week to contract with Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office for police services.
Chad Huff, who had been Fountain Green police chief for 18 years, left to become police chief in Spring City. That prompted Sanpete County Sheriff Jared Buchanan to propose a plan under which two designated sheriff’s deputies would patrol both Fountain Green and Moroni 80 hours per week. The officer on duty on any given shift would split his or her time between the two towns.
Each town would pay the county $125,000 per year, which would cover patrol trucks, cell phones, benefits and training—all things that council members asked about at the various meetings.
At the final meeting Thursday, March 17, Capt. Gary Larsen, second in command at the Sheriff’s Office, was in Fountain Green to answer questions, while Buchanan was attending a similar meeting in Moroni.
Councilwoman Shelith Jacobson said response time was one of the concerns citizens had brought up with her. Larsen said it was hard to say how quick a response the Sheriff’s Office could provide because the Sheriff’s Office didn’t have experience covering the town.
Larsen said when Chief Huff was out of town and a call came into dispatch, dispatchers assessed the severity of the situation. If it was something that didn’t present immediate danger, it was left for Huff when he returned.
Jacobson said that when Huff was not on the clock, he often responded to calls anyway. But in some cases, deputies patrolling out in the county beat him to the incident.
Councilman Rod Hansen wanted assurance that officers would be available during Lamb Days to shut down roads for the parade and monitor other events.
Larsen said if the town put in a request with plenty of notice, the county would be sure to be there. “It will still be the city’s job to take care of the permits,” he said. “But we will make sure that we add it [Lamb Days] to our schedule.”
Jeremy Ivory with the Lion’s Club told Larsen the club would be willing to help with funding, if needed, to bolster coverage during Lamb Days. But that didn’t seem to be an issue.
Buchanan’s original plan was contingent on both Fountain Green and Moroni agreeing to a contract with the Sheriff’s Office. Then on March 17, the Moroni City Council voted against contracting with the Sheriff’s Office.
However, on Monday, Mayor Mark Coombs said that after the Moroni vote, Buchanan had let him know that the Sheriff’s Office would cover Fountain Green only at the original $125,000 price.
In an interview after the final council meeting, Coombs said the biggest consideration in the vote to contract with the county was liability. The mayor said that Fountain Green City doesn’t have the resources to watch over a police department, and with new state requirements, the city doesn’t have the resources to keep up with all the training and documentation requirements.
“Having better trained officers and having better coverage, especially after hours, are just a couple of the other reasons the council felt it was the right move to contract with the county,” Coombs said.
The agreement will be for three years with a clause that says either the town or the county can cancel the contract with a 90-day written notice.
On Feb. 17, the first meeting about policing, Buchanan and Larsen, along with Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels, made their pitch as to why Fountain Green should go with the county.
Daniels said one of the biggest pros was that any liability issues would fall on Sanpete County rather than Fountain Green City.
Daniels said that the two liability problems most likely to come up are failure to train and failure to supervise. By contracting with the county, those needs are taken care of.
The county attorney added that the officer in a single-officer town has so many things to take care of that sometimes “something must give.” That’s when problems happen, Daniels said.
Councilwoman Shelith Jacobson said she hoped the designated officers wouldn’t be in Fountain Green at the same times every day. If they were, she said, citizens could catch on to the schedule and engage in speeding or other law breaking activities when officers weren’t in town.
As for the special public meeting that was held after the Feb. 17 meeting, Mayor Mark Coombs said about a half dozen citizens attended. “The majority of everyone at that meeting was in favor of the city going with the county,” Coombs said.
Moroni decides to keep its own officer, possibly add a second
By Suzanne Dean
MORONI—In the wake of the dismissal of the city’s police chief, the Moroni City Council voted 3-2 last week against contracting with the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office for police services.
Councilman Bevan Wulfenstein and Councilwoman Jenifer Lamb voted in favor of the contract, on the grounds that the Sheriff’s Office has superior resources for training and supervision of officers.
Councilmen Thayne Atkinson, Brad Aldridge and Craig Draper voted against the proposals, partly because of the input they had received from citizens. Draper said re-establishing a police department and eventually hiring a second officer would be an investment in the future of the city.
The vote came Thursday, March 17 after a packed public meeting, where a few residents supported a shift to the Sheriff’s Office but the majority wanted to keep policing under local control.
The meeting also became a venue for residents who opposed Mayor Paul Bailey’s decision in mid-February to fire Police Chief Bob Hill on the grounds that he allegedly used excessive force in two cases involving women who had anxiety or mental health issues.
“I firmly believe the best option for the safety of the Moroni City is to have Bob Hill be the chief of police,” local resident Mike Liddell said. “We’ve never been safer than when Bob Hill was chief of police…. It’s not too late. We can bring him back…. That is the best solution for the city.”
Both Moroni and Fountain Green, which are about eight miles apart, have lost their police chiefs in recent weeks. Hill was terminated Feb. 18. Chad Huff, who had been Fountain Green’s police chief for 18 years, left to become police chief in Spring City. That prompted Sanpete County Sheriff Jared Buchanan to propose a plan to hire two new sheriff’s deputies who would be dedicated full-time to the two towns, with backup from other sergeants and deputies when the regular officers were off duty.
At a special Moroni council meeting March 10, a week before the big public meeting, Buchanan explained that the two deputies would work four 10-hour shifts per week, which would translate to coverage seven days per week, 10 hours per day, plus some.
“But we would split the coverage of those two officers between the two towns,” he said. The officer on duty would spend part of his or her shift in Fountain Green and part in Moroni, depending on needs that particular day.
“There’s a lot more that comes with that than coverage,” Buchanan told the Moroni City Council. “You get the whole structure of the Sheriff’s Office. There’s a lot more to policing than a guy out on Main Street pulling people over and responding to a call here and there. There’s reports, there’s evidence, there’s court testimony.”
The Sheriff’s Office would provide the two Moroni-Fountain Green officers with training and support in all those areas and more, Buchanan said. “It’s a team approach.”
Each town would pay $125,000 to the Sheriff’s Office per year. Buchanan said both towns would need to participate for his office to offer service at that rate. On the same night when the Moroni Council voted down the plan, the Fountain Green City Council approved it unanimously. (See accompanying story.)
“I guess we’ll just wait and see what happens,” a Fountain Green city official said. The Fountain Green City Council has scheduled another meeting on Thursday.
One of the first speakers at last week’s Moroni meeting was former Chief Bob Hill himself. Over the past two years, he said, the Moroni City Council has had a pattern of holding council meetings at other than the regularly scheduled date and time.
He said the council is supposed to meet the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. But of 19 meetings held between January 2020 and January 2022, 15 were held at a different time, which, he implied, impeded public awareness of and participation in city government.
Besides time changes, only three of the 19 agendas offered time for public comment on any issue. A few other agendas said public comment would be permitted “at the discretion of the mayor, not free speech,” Hill said.
Melody Brunson, a local resident who posted a petition on Change.org shortly after Hill was fired calling for his reinstatement, said the primary role of city government is to keep citizens safe. “By referring this to the county Sheriff’s Department, you are denying your primary role as a mayor and city council,” she said.
Brunson referred to Hill’s contention that Mayor Bailey declined to provide a dash cam for his police truck. Hill has also said that after a power surge damaged the computer he used to download body cam footage, Bailey refused to have the computer fixed. His body cam memory filled up, but he couldn’t download the video. After that, he could not use the body cam.
“Supervision of policing is not impossible,” Brunson said. “Fix the body cams. Fix the computer. Chart annual training…Fill out incident reports for items of conflict and make a paper trail. That is 101.”
Another resident, Richard Nielson, also brought up the cameras. “If he had those, we would be able to see what transpired” in the incident that let to Hill’s firing, he said.
“Cameras protect the officer, the citizen and everybody involved,” he said. “So it’s my opinion, Mayor, that you’re negligent in not doing due diligence and taking care of matters. I think we’re all here because you failed to do your job. As a citizen, I’m asking you to resign.”
Cami Talbot, a staff member at Moroni Elementary School, read a letter from Principal Stacey Peterson. “In previous years, when I would ask for patrol to help curb vandalism, speeding and traffic concerns around the school, the patrol would last for a day, maybe two,” Peterson wrote.
“With Officer Hill, when I asked for his help to patrol our school roads, he did so willingly and consistently. Infractions that had the potential of harm to students decreased significantly while Officer Hill was police chief.”
Ana Aagard, a retired teacher, said she has lived in Moroni nearly her whole life but has rarely spoken out on local issues. She said she always supposed the mayor and city council were taking care of things.
She described Hill as “the best police officer we’ve ever had,” and said, “When Bob was fired…, I got a whole new insight into our city government. And I decided at that time I’m not letting this go.”
She objected to the cancellation of a council meeting four days after Hill’s dismissal. “I believe the mayor cancelled it,” she said, “and the reason it was cancelled is because [he believed] people were too upset and needed to simmer down. Which is a joke.”
Another resident, Zach Stiles, asked, “What if our previous police chief did use force or make other mistakes while he was the officer of our town?” Stile’s response to his own question was that nothing Hill is accused of, if he did do those things, seem to merit firing. He needed discipline and training, “and then you move on.”
Kathy Larsen, who said she and her husband have lived in the same house in Moroni for 40 years, said, “Our street has never been safer than with Bob in the police car…We had a couple of houses in our block that were bad houses, where there’s been a lot of partying and drugs going on. Bob has calmed them right down.
“We know that Bob’s watching, and it’s made a big difference in the neighborhood…. We need him back.”
On Monday, Mayor Bailey said the city was getting ready to disseminate a help-wanted ad for a new police chief.