Here's a rundown from this week's busy City Council meeting:
- Sheriff agreement: The Council approved a temporary agreement with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office for patrolling Bennington during the ongoing search for a new police chief. I voted in favor of this agreement. While I certainly understand the concerns of many residents about losing our own local police force, I came to the conclusion that this temporary agreement in no way creates barriers to hiring a new chief. The agreement fits within our existing budget and can be cancelled with 30 days notice. The current arrangement is no one's ideal solution, but in the absence of a chief or interim chief, this agreement provides for an essential level of law enforcement presence and responsiveness.
- Chief hiring: Our posting for the chief position on indeed.com recently closed, but if you know of someone who is interested, refer them to the city office as soon as possible. Our panel of law enforcement experts, which includes personnel from the Sheriff's Office and a UNO criminal justice professor, is currently reviewing and qualifying the applicants for our review. Council Member Kaye Bridgeford, the mayor, and I, assisted by Captain Wayne Hudson from the Sheriff's Office, plan to conduct first-round interviews in late June. Council Members Zach Johns and Jodi Stier will also have opportunities to meet the candidates. This process is designed to build a consensus around the best candidate.
- Mayoral authority regarding police: The Council considered an amendment to the city code governing how the mayor may remove, demote, or suspend police officers and the appeals process that follows. Currently, police officers may be disciplined or suspended by the mayor, and the mayor may recommend removal, but final removal must be approved by the Council. The proposed change would remove this pre-approval process. I voted to table this issue for the time-being, and the Council unanimously agreed. To be clear, our current code is inconsistent with state law, and so it must be changed. However, the way it is changed will require more study by Council members. I also voiced support for a citizen grievance procedure, which we do not currently have, but is also required by state law.
- Fireworks: The Council approved new limits on lighting fireworks within Bennington's city limits. Fireworks will be allowed December 29 to January 1 and June 25 to July 4 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and until midnight on New Year's Eve and July 4. (These limits will not apply to special permits for events such as Bennington Days.)
- Ridgewood sidewalk: The Council approved an agreement with the Ridgewood Homeowner's Association for cost-sharing on the sidewalk project along Bennington Road. This project continues to be on track for completion before the start of the school year.
- New council member: The mayor nominated and the Council approved longtime Bennington resident Jody Stier as the new City Council member representing Ward 1. Her contact information will be posted here soon.
- Upcoming street projects: We gave the city engineer a thumbs-up for proceeding on four high-priority street projects. These include Bennington Road from the Papio Creek bridge to the high school, the section of Bennington Road near the entrance to Ridgewood, North 4th Street, and the northern most portion of 161st Avenue. We anticipate that work will begin this calendar year.
- ASIP fees: We also directed the city engineer to put together some numbers regarding the potential impact of ASIP fees. These fees would be assessed on new developments outside city limits, but within the city's zoning jurisdiction, extending 1 mile outside of town. The new revenue would be restricted for street and road improvements. That growing cost is currently shouldered primarily by personal property taxes of residents. Business development would be a better and more sustainable source of revenue, keeping more economic activity within Bennington, but that takes time. ASIP fees may be essential in the near term.
Those were the topics I mentioned in my preview e-mail. Two other quick notes:
- We advanced a proposed ordinance that clarifies the responsibility of building permit holders in the event that approvals are issued in error. This proposal will come up again at the next meeting.
- The Council voiced support for proceeding with a new rock-covered parking lot on the west side of the baseball fields. The cost is being shared by the ball clubs, the school district, and the city. The new lot will help relieve congestion and improve pedestrian safety at peak times.
The full minutes will be posted here. If you have questions or ideas about any of the topics above, please let me know.
Thanks to everyone who helped make Bennington Daze 2019 a success, including volunteers, churches, city staff, police officers, and sponsoring businesses, not to mention the Bennington Community Foundation and its donors. What a weekend!