Editor’s note: This letter is in reply to Mayor Jim Kelly’s letter to the editor which was written in response to Kenneth Snider’s initial letter to the editor. Links are included for your convenience above and below.
In response to the letter by Mayor Kelly of Benld, he is correct in saying that a Special Meeting was held in July of 2018 to discuss a proposal by the City of Gillespie to provide police protection in the City of Benld. He is also correct in saying that it was well attended. I was present and the sentiments of the Benld citizens at that public meeting was a resounding “no”.
It is my opinion that it is still a resounding “no”, the only difference is that the last Special Meeting on this topic on April 17, 2020, was clearly conducted under the umbrella of the current COVID-19 crisis to avert knowledge of the meeting and any significant opposition to the proposal. There is and was no immediate police-related public safety emergency in Benld to justify this tactic and proposal. I also attended the April 17, 2020, meeting by Zoom, whereas others did participate by telephone. There were very few participants but those who did were overwhelmingly opposed to the proposal.
In regard to the informal committee of citizens that tried to help resolve Benld Police Department issues after the August 13, 2018, meeting: it was subsequently determined that adequate funding did, in fact, exist in Benld’s budget to operate the police department. This is evidenced by Benld’s ability to now funnel their tax dollars to Gillespie to provide a service they could, in fact, provide themselves. I had on several occasions offered to help in finding qualified personnel but was informed by Mayor Kelly quite some time ago that this problem had been worked out.
I have heard no word to the contrary until this topic arose in April of 2020 when apparently the contract negotiations had already been completed with the City of Gillespie.
I indeed have faults that The Good Lord has forgiven me for but untruthfulness is certainly not one of them. I offer the following responses to Mayor Kelly’s 1st list of itemized assertions:
- “I had a meeting with Ken Snider in early 2020 to discuss various issues including a proposal from the City of Gillespie to provide police protection for the City of Benld.” This is false. Mayor Kelly is somehow mistaken. I challenge him to detail the context, location and approximate date of this supposed meeting. I had not spoken to Mayor Kelly the entirety of 2020 prior to a telephone call I made to him in mid-March to thank him for coming into my establishment either on Sunday, March 8th or 15th, when I was not present. No mention of the Benld Police Department was made during that brief conversation. The next conversation was the previously described meeting in person with Mayor Kelly on Wednesday, April 8th, 2020, when in fact we did discuss the Benld Police Department and its proposed dissolution.
- True. However, Mayor Kelly did advise me that the council was going to schedule a Special Meeting but emphasized to me that it would be well-advertised and specifically advertised in the Coal Country Times.
- True. However, the only supposed notices of the Special Meeting I am currently aware of were on Facebook, a posting on the Benld City Hall door that someone would have to walk on a sidewalk closed for sidewalk construction to observe and “through the grapevine” as I did.
- True. However, I am not sure mine or anyone else’s statements were actually heard due to technical audio difficulties, which made it necessary that the Benld City Attorney paraphrase the comments of participants as he interpreted them.
In regard to Mayor Kelly’s second list of itemized assertions, I offer the following observations:
- 1-4. These points regarding the actual ordinance and contract are merely general statements, interpretations, and projections not necessarily supported by facts. For example, the projections of savings in #2 may be correct for the first year of the contract but there is no projecting the costs the City of Gillespie will choose to expend in the last several years of the contract.
- 5. The $216,000 fee will no doubt increase next year with the Gillespie Police Department purchasing of new vehicles and the likely opening of the union contract for police officer wages based upon this action by the governments of Gillespie and Benld. For the record, I am in favor of Gillespie Police Officers receiving new cars and higher wages, just not at the expense of the taxpayers of Benld.
- 6. The “Buyout” provision does nothing but bind the contract to the next Mayor and next two (2) City Councils with the three (3) year stipulation. Extending the will of the current group of elected officials to the next group of elected officials is just plain wrong, whoever they may be. If this is such a great idea, would not the next Mayor and City Council to be elected in next year simply affirm and continue the contract?