Plenty of issues were on the Oakdale City Council agenda on Monday night, with general information on future bond sales, a budget update, traffic control changes, and city redevelopment. The issue that sparked the most conversation by council members and the audience, however, was the city’s response — or lack of response, as claimed by some — to a written communication requesting answers to questions posed in a previous meeting.
At that previous meeting, on Dec. 20, 2010, retired Oakdale police sergeant and city resident Mike Eggener asked a series of questions that surrounded Police Chief Marty West. They included questions about the ordering of a special investigation regarding the release of tape recordings and a Grand Jury investigation about West’s possible influence of a department arrest stemming from a May, 2009 possession of explosives incident.
The June 2010 Grand Jury Report had stated, in part, “…(West) demonstrated poor leadership in the handling of this case by being influenced by another police chief and by failing to follow through to make sure both suspects were treated equally under the law.”
Eggener, who is also a business agent for Operating Engineers Local 3, the union representing the Oakdale Police Officers’ Association, prepared his questions in writing at the direction of the council and submitted them to City Manager Steve Hallam.
During comment at Monday night’s session, Hallam shared his reply to Eggener, made in January, showing the questions posed and his reply to them.
One of Eggener’s concerns was the need for a September 2010 special investigation at a substantial cost to the city into the release of a dispatching tape. Eggener said he felt that if West had asked certain individuals within the department about the tape release, he would have seen that it was properly released per standards.
Hallam replied that the special investigation was at the request of Chief West due to “a serious concern in an apparent breach of protocol over the release of sensitive information in close proximity to a time when a citizen without proper authorization was seen in a secure section of the dispatch center.”
The investigation, conducted by a private investigator at a cost of $4000 to $5000, revealed that though a citizen was in the dispatch area, the radio tape release was documented on a handwritten log for police reports and new policies are in place for the future release of information.
Eggener also inquired about the city’s response to the June 2010 Grand Jury investigation, asking who from the city conducted the investigation for the response and which, or if any, officers were interviewed for the preparation.
Hallam replied that City Attorney Tom Hallinan prepared the city’s response and that the city disagreed with the majority of the findings.
With Hallam’s statement, both Mayor Pat Paul and Councilmember Jason Howard stated that the question did not appear to be fully answered.
Hallam clarified that he did not talk to anyone and directed Hallinan to prepare the response. Hallinan said that “the investigation” was done by the Grand Jury and statements provided to him were summarized. No further investigation was conducted.
“If we’re spending money on one investigation, why can’t we on another issue?” Howard asked.
He also pointed out that even though the matter (Grand Jury Investigation and reply) was during the term of the previous council and mayor that the issue still needed to be addressed.
“I can’t say if any of this is wrong,” said Howard, “but I can say from outside looking in, it looks wrong.”
“To me, this one is just left open,” Paul added. “There’s a glaring gap if the officers weren’t even interviewed.”
Oakdale Police Sergeant Darren Semore approached the podium and asked Hallinan, “How can you respond without investigating it?”
“We knew the gist of what it was,” countered Hallinan. “Why reinvent the investigation?”
Hallinan said he reviewed the Grand Jury Report and the summary of the officer statements, then made the response, which stated the city disagreed with the findings.
Councilman Tom Dunlop suggested the council move on and felt they were going in circles on the issue. He said he would not authorize funds for another investigation.
Operating Engineers Local 3 Business Agent Doug Gorman told the council that the Grand Jury had notified the city of possible misconduct of a peace officer (West) and the city was obligated to investigate the actions.
“This is a double standard,” Gorman said.
“$4000 is reasonable to put the issue to bed,” Howard said.
“That’s not what the labor group said about the original investigation,” Dunlop replied. “Let’s leave it alone and move on.”
Howard said he felt there was an inequity that one investigation against subordinates would be conducted, yet not one on the chief. He said there was a lack of transparency.
Mayor Paul proposed a special meeting on the issue.
Eggener, taking the podium, suggested the local department needed to move in a different direction, motioning to Chief West in the council chambers.
“This gentleman should not be chief of police,” Eggener said.
Hallam continued with the rest of the responses to the Grand Jury Report, answering how traffic funds and a $30,000 special policing allocation were spent. He added that the city felt Chief West was meeting or exceeding his job performance standards.