MOUND CITY – A week after the Linn County Commission chamber was filled with county residents, school administrators and law enforcement officers who wanted the commission to continue to fund the School Resource Officer (SRO) Program, a lone resident challenged two commissioners for deciding instead to continue county funding.
Despite that criticism, commissioners voted to accept an agreement with Prairie View, Jayhawk and Pleasanton school districts to keep the SRO program in place for the 2022-23 school year.
At the commission meeting on Monday, May 16, Mound City-area resident Mike White asked Commissioners Rick James and Danny McCullough why they changed their mind at last week’s meeting and agreed to keep the SRO programs in the county’s three school districts.
James said he changed his mind because of the petition with more than 500 signatures that was turned in and because of the overwhelming support for the program by those who attended last week’s meeting.
James also said that the whole goal from the start of the SRO debate was to get the three school districts to ante up with something to share in the cost of the program, and that happened last week.
“We got them all to ante up to about $70,000 a year now, and that is the reason I changed my mind,” said James. “You are not going to get the school districts to pay the entire fund.”
White responded that school districts in other counties pay for the programs and suggested that the districts were being coy with the commission.
James said the school districts and the sheriff were going to have to look for grants to help with the funding. The districts have agreed to look into this funding.
McCullough said that when he voted two weeks ago to stop funding the SRO program, it brought a lot of attention to the issue that the commission had been working on for a long time.
He said that when he first got into office, he reached out to the school district to talk about it. The commission’s vote to stop the funding brought a lot of attention, and it helped me to see that is what the public wanted, McCullough said, adding that he votes for what the majority of this community wants.
White, who unsuccessfully challenged McCullough for the 2nd District commission seat in 2020, said he did not believe that the petitions and the people that attended last week’s meeting represented the majority of the county. If you broke it down into population, that was actually a small but vocal segment of the county, he said.
White said that one of the statements that is constantly made is that the commissioners don’t care about the kids. However, the reality of it is, if you look down the road at the affordability of living in this county, the commissioners were looking at the future of the kids staying in this county.
White said he wanted to make one more comment. He wanted Linn County Sheriff Kevin Friend to know that he felt humiliated by the way he made his statement to the commission.
“I think he owes you guys an apology. I think that was ridiculous the way he talked to you guys,” said White.
Earlier in the meeting when it was time to approve signing the agreements that the school districts had signed regarding the SRO program, there was disagreement among the commissioners.
County Counselor Gary Thompson summarized the details of the agreement.
Thompson said that each school district was contributing $12,000 for each SRO. The agreement is that the money they are contributing is for the 2022-2023 school year. Because of the way the budgets fall, the payment is not due until January 2023. It is a five-year agreement but it can be ended by appropriate notice by either party.
“So they are contributing now, which is good,” said James.
McCullough asked Thompson if the commission was having any meetings with them.
The agreement says that there will be details worked out between the sheriff and the school districts about operations and control and so forth, answered Thompson.
“How will we find that out?” asked Commission Chair Jim Johnson.
Thompson said the commissioners would have to rely on the sheriff to report to them or the school districts to report. He said he could be in touch with the sheriff periodically to see what is going on.
Johnson said he felt that they should have something. McCullough agreed.
Johnson asked what had changed and how would commissioners know if that happens?
James said that the commissioners had nothing to do with it. If they decide what they’ve got is fine, the sheriff and the school districts, we really have no say in it. Because the operation is up to the sheriff and it is his responsibility to provide guidance and the school districts to provide guidance on this agreement.
McCullough said the transparency in Linn County is non-existent, and he wanted to change that. The cities coming in, anybody coming in, asking for money from the county. I would just like to figure out a way to let everybody know how the money is being spent.
James said he did not know what to tell him on that other than we finally got an agreement with all three school districts. That was a chore in itself. So we have got that, it is here and you have got to have faith in your sheriff and the three school superintendents that want to improve the program. It’s not the commissioners responsibility. You have no say in it.
McCullough asked County Clerk David Lamb during budget season if there was a way they could make people come in and tell commissioners, besides once a year at budget time, come in and ask the commission for $80,000 and we never see them again.
Lamb said, “Just tell them you want them back again.”
Thompson asked what groups McCullough was talking about. Most of those groups like Tri-Ko and others would probably be glad to come in at six months or so to report on what they are doing.
McCullough said he would like to see them more than once a year, and say in front of the camera that records commission meetings how things are going and what their money is being spent on.
Thompson said that the organizations would be in there with their annual request, and that would be the time for you to get a commitment from them if you want them in at a later time in the year.
Commissioners would spend a lot of time if they had all of the organizations they fund in to speak every quarter, said Thompson.
McCullough made the motion that the commission enter into the agreements with the school districts. The motion passed 3-0.