Winfield-sheriff secret meetings stir trouble again
Winfield closer to outsourcing police services?
Long before a consulting firm was hired to evaluate Winfield's Police Department, village board members were meeting behind closed doors to discuss the possibility of contracting the DuPage County sheriff's office to provide police protection.
The covert meetings have created firestorms in Winfield and on the county board.
It was the second time in two years that village officials sought assistance from Sheriff John Zaruba to free up cash in Winfield's budget.
Only this time, a sitting trustee revealed that the village board was negotiating with representatives from the sheriff's office.
Trustee Erik Spande sent the Daily Herald written summaries of discussions the board had during 12 executive sessions between June 2011 and last month. Among the supporting documents are details about two meetings that two trustees had with sheriff's representatives.
"I was concerned that the secrecy would be maintained until the decision was effectively made," Spande said. "As a result, the public would not have a really good chance to be part of the discussion.
"I want the public involved as early as possible," he added. "They've already been shut out for almost a year."
Meanwhile, DuPage County Board members want to know why no one from the sheriff's office told them about the discussions that went "way beyond the introductory stages."
"The county board has not been notified about any of these details," said Paul Fichtner, chairman of the board's finance committee. "The county board needs to make two decisions: Should we allow this agreement? And if so, how much should we be compensated?"
Sheriff's officials last week denied having any "formal" discussions with Winfield, even though documents indicate Trustees Jay Olson and Tim Allen met with sheriff's representatives in January and March.
During the March gathering, the group reviewed items for a possible intergovernmental agreement between the village and the sheriff's office.
Winfield would spend about $1.1 million a year to have eight deputies assigned to the town. Two deputies would be patrolling Winfield's streets at any given time.
And if any Winfield cops "walk off the job" after the "go public" date -- but before the police services contract is approved -- the sheriff's office would provide supplemental patrols until the transition is complete, according to documents.
After seeing the documents Spande released, Fichtner said it "obviously can be construed that there were plenty of negotiations going on" between the village and sheriff's office. His concern is that the cost estimates the sheriff provided could be too low.
Allen said preliminary estimates show that Winfield would save at least $1 million a year if it contracted with the sheriff's office.
Currently, the village spends about $2.6 million a year to maintain its 19-member department. That amount includes the roughly $462,000 the village contributes to its police pension fund, which is underfunded, according to Allen.
The village also has as much as $5.2 million in roadwork that must be done. "Something somewhere has got to give," Allen said.
He called the sheriff's office "the absolute Cadillac of police services," adding that the village must find innovative ways to save money so it can afford to do more road repairs.
"This is a brilliant innovation that I am very excited about," he said of the outsourcing idea.
But former county board member Linda Kurzawa, a Winfield resident who opposes dismantling the village police force, told trustees during last week's board meeting that they've been negotiating with the wrong people.
"I have a bit of experience with the county," she said. "You don't know what you're getting.
"You will turn over the responsibility of law enforcement in this town forever -- it will not be retrieved -- to another party," she added. "And how much you pay for it will be determined by the county board."
Kurzawa also said to the trustees: "If this is such a great idea, why are you hiding it, and why is the sheriff denying it?"
Residents have been voicing concerns since trustees agreed a few weeks ago to pay a consultant $32,000 to evaluate the police department. One of their suspicions has been that the study is the first step to outsourcing the department's duties.
But even after Spande made the revelation that got him censured by the board and kicked out of Thursday night's meeting, several trustees insist they haven't made up their minds about the fate of the police department.
They said they are waiting for REM Management Services to complete its review of budget options, including "consolidation, civilianizing some functions and privatizing specific responsibilities" of the police department.
"The plan has always been to hire consultants, let them do their work, review what they put out, and then make a decision as to whether we want to do anything with it," Trustee Tony Reyes said.
"You can look at the information and decide to do things differently," he added. "And that could mean any one of a number of things. It all depends on what they recommend."
In the meantime, Spande says he wants any further talks about the future of the police department to happen in the open.
Allen stressed that a series of public meetings will be held to review the consultant's findings and gather input from residents before a final decision.
"It was always going to be aired in public," Allen said, "and Erik always knew that."
Services: Trustee says the plan was always to get public input