PERRYSBURG - Some city council members say they're on the fence about whether to budget for a school resource officer in 2014.
There was support for the program in October at a meeting of the Service-Safety Committee, but a first reading of the budget during Tuesday's council meeting prompted several others to express their reservations.
An existing officer would be assigned to the high school, and administrators have requested funds for a new officer in the budget to replace the SRO on patrol. The city would be reimbursed by the school district for 69 percent of the $75,617 cost of the officer's salary and benefits, or $52,175, leaving its share for an additional police officer at $23,442.
Police Chief Dan Paez and Superintendent Tom Hosler supported the effort in October, with Paez noting that it wouldn't just be an officer patrolling the schools, but someone there who could build relationships with students and learn about some problems before they escalated.
A vote was not held for a recommendation at that meeting, but council members Mike Olmstead, Tom Mackin and John Kevern seemed to be on board with the idea.
Tuesday's discussion was prompted by councilor Sara Weisenburger's suggestion that the SRO decision should be made by the school board. She concluded that the city did not need another officer during summer months and requested it be removed from the budget.
Mayor Nelson Evans, a former police officer, quickly stood up for the program.
"Having been a police officer, having worked in the schools for years, this has been needed for a long time. The information, the interaction between the kids does more than help the school out, it helps the police department and city services out. So it's not strictly something we use for three months.
"The intelligence, the interaction we have with the kids and the ability to stop things from happening before they get bad and tie up our services, it's a lot easier and a lot cheaper to do it this way."
City Administrator Bridgette Kabat said it is within the administration's reach to assign an officer to the high school immediately, and what was to be decided by council was whether to budget for a patrol replacement.
Council member Tim McCarthy pointed out that this is a beneficial arrangement for both the city and school district, as it would be otherwise impossible for Perrysburg to acquire a new police officer for around $23,000.
Weisenburger brought up the matter in relation to her position as chair of the Personnel Committee, which prompted Joe Lawless, council president, to ask why it was not in the meeting minutes. Weisenburger said the discussion was held in executive session, and council member Todd Grayson replied that at least part of the conversation should have taken place before the public.
"I felt like that whole conversation, which lasted an hour, fell outside of what I normally experience in executive session. I'm normally discussing wages, labor issues, contract talks, disciplinary action. We sat down with the police chief and we sat down with the superintendent of schools, and we talked about things that I thought the public should know.
"There wasn't a discussion of wages or how they're being treated or whatever else. This was what are they going to be doing on the job, how they interact with the city, what time are they going to spend at the schools, who they interact with, what are their goals. All those things, to me those are critical public functions."
Grayson said he agreed that a school resource officer should be decided by the schools in the context of their budget, not the city's. He maintained that more discussion should be held publicly before going forward with the position, also expressing concerns that, if successful, the program would balloon to encompass the other school buildings.
"As a community, I think this deserves more debate than to be thrown in in October and voted on now and put in the budget, and I'd ask that we just put it off. Not 'yes' or 'no' it, just say 'look, we don't have enough information, the public doesn't have enough information,'" Grayson said, advocating for waiting until next year to revisit the matter.
"I could go on for 20 more minutes about other things that I think are critical to this decision."
Law Director Mathew Beredo chimed in to say he wasn't present during the executive session, but that he felt those conversations did fall under the permitted purposes for private discussion.
"I just want to be on the record that we're not breaking the law," he said.
Grayson then clarified that he did not think the discussion was improperly conducted in executive session, only that the public would have been better served in that instance had it not been held in private.
"This, I think, would have been best discussed in public, not that we weren't legally allowed to do it in private," Grayson said.
Lawless said he's "probably not opposed" to a resource officer, but that the debate should have involved the public and been recorded in minutes for other council members.
"If there was a lot of dialogue, pros and cons, I think all of council should have been privy to that."