Residents, police officers and law board members made it plain Monday evening that they want keep the director of the Riley County Police Department appointed — not elected.
The support at a law board budget hearing was a loud response to a bill in the Kansas Senate aimed at changing the law to make the RCPD director an elected official.
Currently, the position is handled through an appointment by the law board. The present director, Brad Schoen, has run the RCPD since 2007.
The legislative measure, Senate Bill 436, was introduced in the Federal and State Affairs Committee last Wednesday, and referred to the Ethics and Elections Committee on Thursday.
It originated from a local group called Citizens Assuring Transparency.
The group hired registered lobbyist Kevin Barone of Topeka to introduce the measure in the legislature.
Barone appeared in front of the law board Monday night to explain that the group in question is made up of local business owners, doctors and lawyers – who are seeking a way to address problems with the RCPD without “retribution.”
“These are good, hardworking people that just feel they’ve had complaints and could not get anywhere with them,” Barone said.
Some of those complaints had to with the way certain matters are enforced by Riley County police to the way people who have mental illness are treated, Barone said after the meeting.
Barone said specifics would be addressed when the group’s members publicly comment about their concerns, something that is expected at April’s law board meeting.
The majority of law board members spoke against the proposed bill, which would require a four-year term for a director.
Board member John Matta, echoing several others, said there were multiple avenues to voice concerns – including public comment at law board meetings, the Community Advisory Board, or speaking with any law board or RCPD official directly.
“That there’s no place for people to turn and voice concerns, that’s just not true,” board member Barry Wilkerson said. “Frankly, I just don’t believe it.”
Wilkerson said that the directors of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Kansas Highway Patrol also were appointed, and that those situations seemed to work well.
Member Dave Lewis said part of the reason the director’s position is appointed is because of accountability.
“If there’s a compromising situation where the director is involved in, he’s held accountable by the law board,” Lewis said.
Board member Wynn Butler was also vocal about the issue, saying that the law board would have to be elected, as well, if the bill was to “make sense.”
He also said if the group wants to go forward, it should pursue a referendum on the November ballot asking if the people want an elected police director.
“I’m personally very disappointed that people won’t come to the law board,” Butler said. “You can come to the law board and ask it to be confidential.”
Butler said that at “95 percent” of the meetings, no one offers public comments.
“The avenues for communication are there. People just need to use them,” he said.
When asked by The Mercury after the meeting whether members of Citizens Assuring Transparency had pursued all avenues of communication to voice concerns, Barone said, “I think they did what they felt they could at the time. They wouldn’t have come to me if they thought they could get through this otherwise.”
Barone said that some members of the group were there with him – but none of them spoke at the meeting.
Several police officers also voiced their support for the way things are working now.
Detective Calvin Sanders said he prefers a director that came up through the ranks as a cop, and that if someone were elected, there would be less trust between the county’s residents and the RCPD.
“A lot of people feel that’s a political thing. People know there’s money behind it,” Sanders said.
The board unanimously voted to send a letter to the legislature stating its opposition to the bill.
SB 436 has yet to have a vote in the Ethics and Elections Committee.