In the last year, law enforcement coverage in the city of St. Maries has been a point of discussion for the city council.
After canceling its contract with the Benewah County Sheriff’s Office, the council opted to restart the city’s police department by hiring a chief of police.
As reported in this newspaper, the city felt the county was not providing adequate coverage and some councilmen said the city was being charged too much by the county for the service being provided.
Since then, there has been a new contract negotiated between the two entities for the county to provide dispatch services for the city’s police chief and any officers that may be added.
A six-way contest for three open seats on the St. Maries City Council will be decided by voters in November. The fact two employees of the Benewah County Sheriff’s Office entered the race has not gone unnoticed.
Three sitting council members seek reelection: Steve Dorendorf, Doug Ryan and Sabrina Powell.
Dorendorf has served the city for six years. He was first appointed to fill a vacancy and then was elected four years ago. Both Ryan and Powell were appointed to fill vacancies. Ryan has served just over a year and Powell was appointed in August.
A former councilwoman, Margie Gannon, also seeks election. She previously served on city council after being elected by voters in 2015 and continued in that role until 2018 when she began serving in the legislature.
Joining the race are newcomers Tyler Morris and Michael Richardson. Morrison currently serves as the undersheriff for the Benewah County Sheriff’s Office and Richardson is a detective.
“I am a bit concerned about what their agenda is,” Dorendorf said. “The two of them showed no interest before and now all of a sudden are showing interest.”
Dorendorf said he hopes to sit down and talk with both Richardson and Morris to determine if he is able to support them if they end up getting elected. Dorendorf said if he’s reelected, he wants to see the city continue to invest in its own police department.
“I think we’ve got a good person as chief of police. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to see the department fully staffed again to take care of enforcing city ordinances,” Dorendorf said.
Ryan expressed similar thoughts about two employees of the sheriff’s office running.
“While I have nothing but respect for both of those candidates, I firmly believe having an employee of the sheriff’s department having a direct influence over the city on the city police department and the chief of police is a concern,” Ryan said. “Having someone from the sheriff’s department on the city council would cause that influence to occur, and constitutes what I believe to be a conflict of interest.”
Ryan added the sheriff’s office and city police department must work together, but still be independent agencies. He said if elected he plans to continue to support the city’s chief of police by building the department and what it offers. He said there has not been much in the way of code enforcement in the last few years and the council has been working hard to “bring that up to speed.”
While they admitted rumors have started since announcing their campaigns, both Morris and Richardson said their aim in running for city council is to try and do what is best for the city of St. Maries and its residents.
“People are always going to talk,” Richardson said. “Personally, I’m running for city council because I have a vested interest in what goes on in the city. As far as law enforcement, I work for the county and that includes St. Maries. My end goal is the public safety of everybody in the county.”
Richardson added he thinks it is good the city is working to rebuild the police department. He said there is a need for it so city ordinances can be enforced.
Morris strongly disagreed that if elected there would be a conflict of interest. He said one of his primary reasons for running for council is to lend his experience in law enforcement to help the city rebuild its own department. He said if it’s a conflict of interest for him to be on the council it would be a conflict of interest for a business owner to sit on the council as well.
“There’s also six councilmen for a reason,” Morris added. “It stops one person from getting something through and stops any conflict of interest.”
Morris said he wants to see the city have its own police department and wants to see it succeed.
“There needs to be somebody in city limits at all times to be able to quickly respond to calls and to enforce city laws and ordinances,” Morris said.
Powell and Gannon, while they made no direct comments on Morris’ and Richardson’s candidacy, said they also want to continue to build up the city’s police department.
“I am happy with where things are going,” Powell said. “I don’t like the division that has been brought up between city and county. I don’t know where it originated. But I want everyone to work together and go from here.”
Powell said the city’s police department needs to grow but the hiring of a chief of police was a starting point.
Gannon said the tension between the county and city in regards to law enforcement caught her attention and she’s heard from others who are concerned.
“It’s scaring citizens. They feel insecure and are concerned about what happens when they need someone,” Gannon said.
Unlike the others, Gannon said she wants to see the city renegotiate with the county to provide law enforcement coverage in the city. She said it will be costly for the city to rebuild the department back to what it was before it was disbanded.
“I was on the council when we decided to disband the police force. And in the back of my mind, I wasn’t sure it was the best decision, and that is on me for not speaking up more at that time. But we got rid of everything. It will be very expensive to build that all back up.”
Gannon said she feels it would be best for the city to renegotiate with the county. She said the sheriff’s office could use the money from the city to hire more staff to cover inside city limits.
“The battle between the city and county needs to stop,” she added. “We need to start working together.”