PORTSMOUTH — Conversations surrounding the purchase of an armored vehicle for the Portsmouth Police Department again proved to be a contested matter during Monday night’s city council session.
Once again making it to council’s agenda despite objections from 1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne, the funding and necessity for the Lenco Medcat– a tactical automobile suited for SWAT or EMS teams with medical lighting and storage capabilities- were still his reasons for not being in favor of the vehicle previously valued at $265,000.
Public sentiment and belief among Shawnee State University administration, faculty, and staff that he spoke with, where Dunne is employed, he feels is also on his side.
“This is not merely a critical problem in communication with the city manager, but it is also, in my view a vast difference in priorities, ways of spending, and how spending can be done,” he said at council’s first session back at the city building this year. No one he spoke with at SSU thinks it’s a good idea.
Communication on this and other matters between Dunne and City Manager Sam Sutherland has not been going well by the councilman’s standards, referring to this process as a “mess.”
“I think this is a horrible decision that we’re about to make,” he said. “I am so outraged behind this, the overall idea behind it, the attempts of rationalization behind it, and it’s not working. If this goes forward, I think we have to seek a new city manager.”
What he feels is needed in addition to input beyond just city workers is the historical context of prior discussions surrounding the acceptance of grant money for the Portsmouth Fire Department.
Considerable amounts of time went into that legislation that ultimately failed, taking away from other pressing issues facing the city, Dunne said, adding that the process had now been repeated with the Medcat.
“In hindsight, it was infuriating,” he said. “One councilperson asked me about it, and I defended Sam (Sutherland) by saying ‘I think this would be the worst mistake of his time as city manager.’”
Earlier in the discussion, Dunne attempted to table the item where 2nd Ward Councilwoman Charlotte Gordon joined him in the vote. The two votes were not enough to go through with the motion, as three votes were opposed to tabling.
Gordon, however, did not agree with his comparison of funding methods for the police vehicle with the fire grants. Many, she argued, also support it as a matter of making the city a safer place to live.
“This vehicle has hard numbers to it,” she said, the legislation reading that three fund balances would cover $80,680 of the purchase. “I think this is infrastructure spending and I think that it’s valid.”
Dunne countered by saying while violent instances could happen in Portsmouth, he does not want these discussions to be countered around fear but rather in a more holistic sense of its necessity.
“While these things are possible, this isn’t as probable as a variety of other problems that would arise in our city,” he said, mentioning overdoses, poverty and car fatalities. “If this is about likely dangers we are going to face, this is not addressing those issues.”
Present in council chambers was Police Chief Debra Brewer, who, responding to questions from Mayor Kevin Johnson, said the available grant money has sat unused for the past eight to 12 years.
“We can’t get a grant to purchase the entire vehicle, but this would knock down the price of it if we did it this way,” she said, Dunne asking in prior discussions that new grant money, money not from the city’s general fund, be sought to cover the expense.
Council considered amending the legislation by replacing the $45,000 per year needed from impound lot revenue with a change to PPD’s Capital Improvement Budget funding. Instead of receiving six vehicles each year for the next four years, the department will now request five starting in 2022.
Ultimately, they decided to just constitute it as a first reading at Auditor Trent Williams’ request. He and City Solicitor John Haas will re-work the legislation before the May 24 council session to account for those changes.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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