Riley County commissioners on Thursday said they were surprised to learn that legislators are considering a bill that would make the Riley County police director an elected position.
Currently, that position is appointed by the county law board.
Commissioner Dave Lewis said the news, which the commission received from counselor Clancy Holeman, was “disturbing.”
Lewis said the bill targets Riley County because it is directed at consolidated law-enforcement agencies. The Riley County Police Department the only one in the state.
The bill was introduced in the Kansas Senate Wednesday and isn’t sponsored, Lewis said. Sen. Tom Hawk of Manhattan said that lobbyist Kevin Barone got the legislation introduced on behalf of a group from Manhattan. Hawk wouldn’t say who the group was. He said the group wanted to put the RCPD director on par with elected sheriffs, believing that such a move would make law enforcement more responsive to the public. Hawk said he didn’t support that idea, and said he liked the current setup because it keeps politics out of law enforcement.
Lewis agreed: “It could allow special-interest groups to find and allow a non-professional police person to run for that position, where now we have a real law-enforcement professional,” he said.
RCPD Director Brad Schoen declined to comment on the situation Thursday morning.
Chairman Bob Boyd expressed concern about how quickly the bill materialized.
“I’m less concerned about the elected position than I am the process of getting to that,” Boyd said. “It’s a scary thing when legislation just shows up without any public debate.”
Boyd said it was also disconcerting that bill is not sponsored by any individual. The Kansas Legislature’s website lists the bill, named SB 436, as being sponsored by the Committee on Federal and State Affairs. Hawk is not on that committee.
“That’s one of the unique things about the Kansas Legislature,” Boyd said. “They don’t have to have a sponsor for those bills, and that is really wrong. There should be some elected official on the bill so you can hold them accountable.”
In other action, commissioners agreed to look further into funding options for proposed upgrades for a new playground in CiCo Park and paused on activating $225,000 for the new structure.
Commissioner Ron Wells and Boyd proposed researching a possible bond option. Commissioners said they hope to learn more for next week’s meetings.
“I think we’re all committed to our parks,” Boyd said. “And we need to get cracking on that.”
“(The proposed CiCo Park playground) would be a tremendous asset to our community and to our parks,” he said.
In other items:
The $334,189.01 bid by Bettis Asphalt & Construction Inc. for work on the Casement ditch outfall structure was returned to the company, because the bid was above the estimated cost of $259,320.90 by the county engineer.
Action was taken on a renewal of online access agreements with Alfred Benesch & Company and Heartland Document Retrieval.
Monies were activated for many equipment and facility upgrades:
• $225,000 for a new tandem-axle truck with plow and spreader.
• $72,000 for a new mower and tractor.
• $70,000 for a 1 1/2 ton truck and sprayer.
• $45,000 for new motor grader/packer.
• $35,000 design cost of one new culvert.
• $26,000 for a new 3/4 ton 4x4 pick-up.
• $25,000 for a new shop fence.
• $22,000 for a replacement vehicle for the County Appraiser.
• $20,000 for exercise trail replacement at Cico Park.
•$15,000 for a sump-pump head replacement.