HARTFORD — Deteriorating relations among residents, the mayor and trustees fueled a lively Village Board meeting on July 7. Issues on hand included water and sewer rates, an open fire chief position and the hiring of a part-time police officer.
Controversial addition to police force
The first item on the agenda was the hiring of Collinsville resident Eric Heath as a part-time police officer. Residents and city employees questioned the need for another part-time officer. (Hartford currently has four full-time and three part-time officers). Most questions from residents focused on Heath’s experience and educational background as well as a lack of public notice.
“We received an application for a part-time police officer by Eric Heath,” Trustee Don Jacoby said. “He is requesting that we hire him and put him through the part-time police academy, and he must be hired through a police department to get his training. The only cost the village will incur in the beginning is a shirt and a pair of pants, from what I understand, because Eric is going to pay his training costs. He will not cover any shifts until his training is completed.”
Resident Casey Inman asked if the position was made available to the public or if other qualified individuals applied. Inman also asked the board if Heath had any education or experience to make him a suitable police candidate.
Mayor James Spann said the application was given to him by Chief John Griggs and the board was not currently seeking another police officer, but if voted in, Heath would become a paid officer following his part-time academy training.
Heath, who works as a manager at the Road Ranger convenience store, said he did not have any education or qualifications for the position, but was not required under state law to have any formal training other than part-time academy training.
Hartford does not have a testing process in place for police officers, and past officers have been hired through submitted applications and Village Board approval.
Heath was voted in by the board by a 5-to-1 margin and will begin his training Aug. 1.
Open fire chief position
During his formal retirement process, outgoing Fire Chief Dave Owens recommended Assistant Chief Brandon Flanigan be named his successor, saying he had fulfilled all training and certification requirements for the position. Spann instead appointed Capt. Jared Horn, saying Flanigan, who has served as a police officer for 13 years and a firefighter for 10 years, would have difficulties performing the job of fire chief as well as uphold his position on the police department.
“I’ll be upfront … I’m hesitant to name (Flanigan) chief because of his position on the police department,” Spann said. “If he’s working an accident as a policeman, he can’t just take off and go be fire chief.”
“Captain Horn is gone for weeks at a time with his job at the refinery,” Hartford first responder Kerri Fulkerson said. “His job takes him away from the state for upward of 28 days at a time. The man Mayor Spann is wanting to appoint is not here in town enough to be a full-time fire chief.”
Fire Capt. Matt Burris told the board Horn was recently out of Hartford for 31 days and was home for 16 hours before leaving again for another 28 days. He also questioned if the move was politically motivated as opposed to hiring the most qualified candidate.
“It would make more sense to make Flanigan chief because he’ll already be doing the job when Horn is out of town,” Burris said. “Flanigan is also the most qualified. Horn and I have the exact same education and qualifications. I know that I’m not qualified to be chief and I wouldn’t take that job in a heartbeat.”
“When most people start out on a job, they don’t know all there is to know; they learn on the job,” Spann replied.
Board members voted unanimously to reject Spann’s appointment of Horn as chief, and with no other name listed on the night’s agenda, the issue was tabled for a future meeting.
Residents also voiced concerns over water rates, including the magnitude of the increase and public notice time frame.
“Residents would see an increase from $2.63 to $4.23 and sewer rates would go from $2 to $4.40,” Public Utilities committee chair Robert Cheatham said. “These are the rates that are recommended by our engineers.”
Residents voiced opposition to the increase without what they saw as proper notice.
“When the rate hikes do go up, is there going to be a letter sent out to citizens to tell them?” resident Jami Morrison asked. “There are a lot of elderly people around who will see a $20 to $40 jump on their water bill. That is significant. How soon will we know before our first bill?”
Spann told the room when the rate increases are passed through vote, the increase would take effect on the next bill and the citizens would be informed before they receive the bill.
The issue was tabled for further discussion.
Village Board meetings are open to the public, with the next meeting taking place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, at the Hartford Village Hall board room.