PIEDMONT — It turns out you can fight city hall.
Members of the Piedmont City Council announced during a Monday workshop they are dropping the idea of contracting with the Canadian County Sheriff's Department to provide police services for the city.
City officials called a news conference Sept. 6 to announce the city was in discussions with the sheriff, but quickly dropped that idea after a backlash from residents.
“It is a dead issue,” Piedmont Mayor Valerie Thomerson said, addressing residents at Monday night's meeting. “We heard the public. You all said you didn't want it. You did not want us to pursue it, and we heard you loud and clear.”
Thomerson's comments drew applause from the crowd of about 20 spectators.
The Piedmont Police Department has nine full-time officers, including the police chief, and one reserve officer. The city budgets $915,000 annually for police services. The sheriff's department would have provided services for $607,252, officials said.
But residents who contacted the mayor and city council members wanted to keep their department local.
“We need a local police department,” Piedmont resident Glen Bray said. “I was mad when they brought it up. We need security out here. My neighbors are all for keeping it too. We need them here to cut down on vandalism and whatever else.”
Christina Vierus has lived in Piedmont since 2002 and said she supports the police department and its recent decision to unionize, joining the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 173.
“I like our police department just fine,” she said. “I think what we have is good. They have a right to have an FOP and I support that as well. They know what they're doing. All my friends are for it and I have quite a few of them.”
Police Chief Alex Oblein said he was pleased with the council's decision.
“We're out there writing tickets and sometimes you wonder if that's the only way the public sees us, so to have this kind of support makes you feel good,” Oblein said. “They want us to be here, they want us to be their police department.”
City council members will vote on a collective bargaining agreement with officers during their Sept. 30 meeting. Attorney Matthew Love is negotiating the agreement with the union on behalf of the city.
Love said the two sides have worked well together in negotiations and have already decided issues such as control over the department's policy manual, probationary periods for new and recently promoted officers and hours allotted for ongoing training.
“We really haven't had contentious negotiations,” Love told the council.
Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West said city officials approached the sheriff in June about contracting for law enforcement services, something that was preferable to the council to simply abolishing the police department.
“We would have inherited that job anyway had that happened,” West said. “For them to come to us ahead of schedule and talk about it … gave us time to put together a proposal to hire more deputies.”
West said the sheriff's office would have hired at least eight more deputies to cover Piedmont. The deputies would have been housed in Piedmont's existing police building, he said.
“We're totally OK with their decision,” West said. “We think it's a great thing for Piedmont that they're able to keep their police department.”