The Troutdale City Council held a work session last night to hear a proposal to consolidate Troutdale's police department with the Multnomah County Sheriff's office. Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton, Troutdale Police Chief Scott Anderson , and Troutdale Finance Director Erich Mueller tag-teamed with a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted the proposed merger from the 30,000 foot level. In other words, their presentation was long on concept but short on numbers.
The work session was attended by at least sixty people, most of them Troutdale police and employees, Multnomah County deputies, and union representatives from both the Troutdale police and Multnomah County AFSCME locals.
Although Troutdale City Manager Craig Ward started the meeting by stating none of his staff had seen any contracts or agreements regarding the proposed merger, it became clear as the meeting droned on that everyone in the room had been in discussions or had been briefed about the basics of the proposed merger- except for the city council and the random ordinary citizens who showed up for the meeting.
Technically, Mr. Ward was correct. There were no contracts or agreements. However, Chief Anderson, Sheriff Staton, and City of Troutdale management admitted they had been working together on the basic concepts and financial assumptions for several weeks. During their PowerPoint presentation, Chief Anderson even stated that he and Sheriff Staton had been discussing/working toward the proposed merger for the past four years. (Which was about the time the bond election campaign for Troutdale's new police station was getting off the ground.)
I didn't take notes on the presentation. However, the merger proposal basically goes like this: Troutdale doesn't have, and won't have the money to fully staff its police department. Troutdale is desperate for some cash. Multnomah County Sheriff's office has loads of services that the Troutdale police could use. A merger could put more police on Troutdale streets and at the same time, eliminate inefficiencies and save Troutdale over $800,00 per year.
In the PowerPoint show, Staton and Anderson said nothing would change. Troutdale police would still drive Troutdale police cars. The only difference? They'd now be Multnomah County deputies. And Troutdale would keep its Police Chief. They assured everyone that even after a merger, Troutdale would have "local control". Chief Anderson would still be Chief, and he would have total control over City of Troutdale police (oops I mean Multnomah County Sheriff) activities in Troutdale.
That was nice to hear, we'd get to keep our Chief of Police. But a city of Troutdale employee pointed out to me, "If Troutdale police merge with the Multnomah County Sheriff's office, there will already be a County Sheriff, so why would they need a Troutdale Chief of Police?" And she was spot on with that observation. Private corporations go through mergers all the time. The larger corporation always assures the smaller corporation management and board members nothing will change after the merger.
And then, after the merger and all the hoopla in the press, the next thing you read a few weeks later is a small article in the business section of the paper or business magazine. You guessed it! The big corporation in the merger quietly gets rid of the old leadership of the smaller company. You've seen the money quote- they left to "spend more time with their family".
Now I am NOT saying that this is what would happen with any merger of the Sheriff's office and Troutdale's police station. I just used this example to point out that unintended consequences always result from mergers of any organization.
The presentation by Chief Anderson, Sheriff Staton, City Manager Ward and Troutdale Finance Director Erich Mueller was well organized and high in concept but short on real numbers. And that's what concerns me. In addition, Multnomah County IS Multnomah County, after all. Except for east county's Commissioner Diane McKeel who serves our interests extremely well, the rest of the County Commission often sees east county and Troutdale/Fairview/Wood Village as nothing more than a piece of annoying gum that stuck to their Birkenstocks.
The Multnomah County Commissioners control the budget of the Sheriffs Office. Do Troutdale residents really want to lose local control of their police department? Are we that desperate for money that we're willing to sell off the future of our police department?
What does it mean to be a city in east county?
We can't afford our police department so we merge it with Multnomah County?
We can't afford to pay for road maintenance. What's next? Giving up our roads to Multnomah County?
We can't afford to maintain our parks. What's next? Giving up our parks to a parks and recreation district?
What does it mean to be a city in east county? Is this a decision we want to put in the hands of our elected officials, or should we put this to a vote?