Three things to know from city council meeting June 22
Before Dover City Council approved the budget in a 7-2 vote, City Manager Donna Mitchell introduced a last minute change. An additional $83,300 will be added to the budget for police training and consulting.
Four days before the June 22 council meeting, Police Chief Thomas Johnson presented a series of departmental and policy changes in a press conference. One included expanding training to focus more on justice, equity, de-escalation and use of force.
Following calls for police reform across the country, Mitchell said it seemed urgent.
“I didn’t feel that stating we would find the money in the upcoming budget would send the right message, and it needed to be taken care of now,” she said.
The police training budget went from the recommended $55,000 to $88,300, about a 60% increase. The consulting budget was increased to more than five times the recommended amount when the city added $50,000 to help bring in experts for onsite officer training.
To cover the increases, Mitchell decreased the general fund budget balance, or the cash used to pay bills while waiting for utility or other payments to come in.
All city departments, including police, were originally asked to reduce their budgets to help account for pandemic-related losses this year.
Johnson talked briefly about the training and will present more to the Safety, Advisory and Transportation Committee Tuesday, June 23 at 6 p.m. “We’re going to make sure there is quality and value attached to every training dollar,” he said.
Councilman Roy Sudler and Councilman David Anderson asked whether the budget could support body cameras for police officers. “I think now is the time to step our efforts up with the body cameras, and I think the community would appreciate it,” Sudler said.
Mayor Robin Christiansen agreed that body cameras should be a priority, and he said the city is looking at state funding to cover that cost. Mitchell recommended that the city discuss body cameras separately from the overall budget.
Sudler and Councilman Tim Slavin voted against the budget. Slavin read a prepared statement later, explaining that his dissent was to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Since we began the process of crafting the budget … our world has changed,” he said, urging the other council members and the mayor to listen to their constituents. “The voices are clear, and the message is simple: Black Lives Matter.”
He encouraged further dialogue and action regarding race and equity in Dover, acknowledging his own past mistakes. As he stood by his decision to not run for re-election next spring, he called upon other council members to help in areas like increasing diversity within the Dover Police Department.
Special election Aug. 18
First District voters will take to the polls Aug. 18 to elect a new council member following Councilman Tanner Polce’s resignation effective July 1. The city will mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter.
Candidates can file between Tuesday, June 23 and Friday, July 17. Voters must register before July 25.
Seven council members approved the special election, Councilman Fred Neil abstained and Polce did not vote.
Neil supported postponing the election because he said he was worried people would not come out to vote because of the pandemic. “Having it at that early time could very well disenfranchise people who wish to come out,” he said.
Other council members, including David Anderson, said they think the absentee ballot process will help people vote who want to stay at home. “I think it’s a good call to have the election,” Anderson said. “I think we'll be able to have a turnout that’s comparable to the normal special election turnout.”
Councilman Ralph Taylor agreed that having a full city council is important. “I firmly believe that we will benefit greatly by getting that person as soon as possible,” he said.
The new first-district council member will be sworn in at the Sept. 14 meeting.
City manager search
The search for Dover’s next city manager is in the works. City Manager Donna Mitchell is retiring Oct. 30.
Kim Hawkins, director of human resources, presented five possible consulting firms to help lead the search.
Council unanimously approved a motion asking Hawkins to check each company’s references and ask each for a timeline of the search process.