An Oct. 4 City Council decision to transfer administrative responsibility for the police department from Mayor Theron B. Hutchings to City Administrator Richard Warne is stirring controversy, but council members and the mayor don't want to comment publicly.
The change has prompted Hutch-ings to seek an attorney general's opinion to clarify whether the council acted within its jurisdiction. Hutchings said until he has that opinion, he will make no further comment. "I have requested the opinion, but I have been given no indication as to when it might be forthcoming," Hutchings said.At issue are apparent conflicts in the state statutes that in one section indicate mayors have administrative control over police departments but in others indicate city councils can override that authority.
The council had been informally discussing the change for several months but had given no indication that any immediate action was planned.
But that changed on Oct. 4, however, when Councilman Ted W. Sand-strom brought up the issue under the "other business" item on the council agenda. City Attorney Mike Mazuran drafted an ordinance that Sandstrom presented to the council and which was adopted by 3-1. Councilman Ronald V. Twitchell voted against the motion. Councilman Stephen L. Ames did not attend.
Sandstrom said the move was a final step toward putting administrative control of all city departments under Warne's direction. He said the action was not a reflection on Hutch-ings or his administration of the department. Twitchell declined to elaborate on his opposition but said he will continue to support Warne as he has in the past.
A small group of city residents has opposed the change and has leveled charges of conspiracy at council members.
Ames said he does not necessarily oppose the concept of the move but is irritated that he was not given advance notice of the intended action. He said he has some reservations about the wording in sections of the ordinance but believes those can be resolved. He said he is uncomfortable with the way the matter was handled and believes more public comment should have been sought before the ordinance was considered.