Garden City hears other side

Stark picture
Don Stark, a member of the Cass County Emergency Services Board, is surrounded by TV cameras following the board’s meeting last week after his motion to build a new centralized dispatch center for the county died for a lack of a second. During a prepared statement, Stark criticized opponents of the plan for talking to the media, which gave the county a “black eye” and created “frenzy”. Stark is not affiliated with any emergency agencies in the county.

By Dennis Minich

Last month elected officials in Garden City were the subjects of ridicule, and even felt threatened, after laying off the city administrator and most of the police department and placing the police chief on indefinite unpaid leave.

The board’s last meeting, Dec. 11, was much different as the assembled residents gave the board a rousing ovation following an impassioned presentation by a resident.

The meeting was different from the start as it was moved from city hall to the community building to accommodate additional attendees.

The main point of business for the evening was allocating nearly $37,000 for the repair and purchase of lift pumps for the city’s sewer system, an outlay that some members of the board said led to the personnel moves because of lack of funds.

To help offset other costs, the board is also considering a plan which would raise the fees for building permits for homes and businesses from $1,000 to $2,600. A final vote on that is likely in January.

Following the main business, the floor was opened for comments from the community.

Matthew Smith was the first to address the personnel moves and expressed concern about how things were handled.

“Why did you disband the police department and why did you do it in closed session? I had to find out about it from the Kansas City media. You went into closed session and closed the local police department.

“I voiced disapproval on the mayor’s Facebook page and was blocked,” Smith said.

He was followed by Cindy Bathgate, whose take the on issue was much different.

“I took the time to research the issue and found the city is in a financial crisis. We have 650 households and 17 businesses responsible for supporting the town. We have a pool that does not support itself. The citizens voted for the pool, this board had nothing to do with it,” Bathgate said. She then used last year’s numbers to emphasize how the sales tax to support law enforcement is insufficient.

“Our sales tax generated $72,253.43. The expenses for the police department were $219,630. That is a lot of difference for a town our size. We are five months into the current fiscal year and the police department has already used most of its budget for the year.

“Twice we have had ballot issues for larger taxes for police and twice they were voted down by the citizens,” Bathgate said.

She again defended the board of aldermen.

“The budget was depleted, these men did everything they could, this was not done to punish anyone,” she said.

Bathgate then spoke about the controversy following the decision.

“We were told we were without police protection – that was not true. The former police chief (Thomas Alber) was told not to say anything, to give the board time to make arrangements with the sheriff’s department and to inform the public. Instead, he posted on the City of Garden City’s and Police Department’s Facebook pages, saying we were unprotected,” she said.

“He then posted the names and addresses of the aldermen – tell me how that promotes safety?”

She said Alber still controls the city’s social media accounts and will not turn over passwords to the city. Attempts to reach Alber for comment were unsuccessful.

Bathgate said her defense of the aldermen has been deleted from the Facebook pages while comments attacking the city have remain posted. She said one of the people posting is from Chicago and has no connection to the city.

“He attacked the city and he attacked me personally and I was not allowed to respond. What right does an ex-police chief have to control the city’s pages?” she asked.

Her comments were greeted with applause from most of the 60 people in attendance, and Mayor Daniel Cantrell thanked her, saying, “We will get through this. We are stronger than those against us.”

Following the meeting, Alderman Brian Walton clarified Alber is not the ex-police chief. Alber is still an employee of the city. He did confirm Alber had declined to share the social media passwords.

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