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Danderson extends olive branch to police department


May 19, 2010
BERLIN —Councilor Robert Danderson had conciliatory words for the police department on Monday night for the first time since the council approached the budget, but he continued to criticize the police commission.

The council opened a discussion about where the police department severance funds line item fit within the budget, and Councilor Danderson took the opportunity, as has been his habit over the course of the budget process, to comment on what the police department should be doing differently.

This time Councilor Danderson's criticism regarded food receipts officers turn in for reimbursement while on official business. Previously he has raised issue with how officers and the chief are using department vehicles, what time the commission schedules its monthly meeting, the contract between the department and Milan for police coverage, the cost per resident for policing in the city, the manner the department approaches policing and how many officers are on the street.

On Monday Councilor Danderson said he wants to see itemized receipts, with the number of people served listed, so the council will have some idea what city money goes toward.

Police Chief Peter Morency, who was at the meeting to answer questions about the severance fund, said that information is available at the police department and can easily be included with the receipts that come to city hall.

Councilor Danderson then launched into a speech about the police department different than most he has made recently regarding the department.

Some people have voiced support for my scrutiny of the police department, he said. Others, including Councilor Lucie Remillard, he said as he rested a hand on her shoulder, have told me to lay off.

Councilor Remillard shook her head as he spoke.

"I just want to know we're doing the best job we can," he said. "I don't want to appear to be at war with you."

Less than two weeks ago, however, during the council's line by line review of the 2011 budget, Councilor Danderson pushed for a 5 percent cut of the police budget, "to make up for last year."

"I believe that's a gift," was his reaction when the council voted that night to fund the department at the same level as last year.

His tone on Monday night was gentle by comparison.

"I don't want to hurt the police department," he said, "but at the same time I don't want to hurt the city."

Chief Morency responded that he too cares about the city. I live here, he said, and I want the same positive outcomes for the city the council wants. I hope to have a good working relationship moving forward, he said. The feuding has gotten out of hand, he said, and discussions between the council and the department need to regain a more convivial tone.

"Everything is on the up and up," he said, and he invited councilors to come by and visit or call any time they have questions.

Councilor Danderson said his problem was not with the department, but with the commission.

"I don't think the council should be ignored," he said, "and right now I feel it is by the police commission."

He backed away from his earlier recommendation for a 5 percent cut, saying on Monday that level funding was the right thing to do.

At the end of the meeting he took another jab at the police commission, this time about the timing of their meetings.

He won't vote for any public appointee who would hold meetings for city organizations at a time not conducive to allowing the public attending, he said.

"There's a bad precedent right now," he said, both at the police commission and the water commission, that doesn't let people get there.

The police commission regularly schedules their meetings at 7:30 a.m.

Councilor Danderson said if police commission scheduled its meetings for 3:30 p.m. it would satisfy him because he could attend.

Many people are still at work at 3:30 p.m., however, so it's unclear how effective that change would be at reaching his stated goal of opening the meetings to the public.

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