Much has been said about the merger since last Thursday’s meeting of the combined city councils of Gering and Scottsbluff. Thursday night’s big news that the merger was dead, and the Gering sigh of relief that went with it, have been carried away in the maelstrom of discussion at Monday night’s regular council meeting in Gering, where Hillman-Kortum insisted that the matter be regurgitated.
Hillman-Kortum explained that her amendment of Monday’s agenda to discuss an inter-local agreement came from concern that the study conducted on the merger idea and its valuable findings, would be left on some shelf.
A discussion about McFarland’s final version of the motion that passed on Thursday night and whether it ensured a further exploration of the existing inter-local agreement became heated. McFarland’s Thursday motion after amendment was: “I move that the City of Gering discontinue formal discussion regarding a merged police department which would involve a joint agency. Thereby maintaining the existing independent Gering department but to continue to pursue enhancements to the existing inter-local agreement.”
No agreement about the final wording of Thursday’s motion was possible Monday night in the absence of an official written record. Discussion turned to the merger plan’s Option 3, with some council members expressing concern that as part of the merger, Option 3 needed to be scrapped, although elements could be used as part of the inter-local agreement. Other council members disagreed and liked the option.
Mayor Mayo gave his assurance that he had spoken with Chief Griggs and Sheriff Overman, charging them to work together with Scottsbluff Chief Moreno to find enhancements to the existing inter-local agreement. Chief Griggs addressed the council and promised extensive collaboration with his counterparts, finishing with a request that the council hold him accountable to presenting a detailed report three months hence.
After all of that discussion and despite the argument that Thursday’s motion already encompassed the exploration of enhancements to the inter-local agreement, a new motion was made Monday by Hillman-Kortum: to show support for an “inter-local agency agreement” and to continue the dialogue on how option 3 can be incorporated into police operations and calling for regular updates from Chief Griggs. Smith provided a second, with Christensen throwing his support for the motion. The final vote of 5-2, with Gibbs and McFarland dissenting, was carried but the final result was an historic veto by Mayor Mayo.
We are astounded by the cheek shown by some elected officials to beat this dead horse. The longer this fat chewing goes on, the more time, energy and momentum is stolen from the development of serious solutions to the economic challenges we face.
Gering now has an opportunity to demonstrate that we are willing to work with our neighbors, we are willing to share, to help and to provide support, as long as a we remain independently in control of our police force and finances and able to retain self-direction.
Why does the new focus on inter-local enhancements only add the sheriff to the mix? Why not Minatare, Mitchell, Morrill, Henry, Lyman, Melbeta and McGrew? If we are going to work together, let’s work together under one umbrella that encompasses all of our county’s communities.
If we are starting over, let’s be progressive. We all need help from each other. Let’s work to create an inter-local agreement that will provide everyone in our county with a go-to person we have all elected, the sheriff.
This merger fiasco has probably been more damaging to the overall unity and health of our community than any in memory, perhaps as much damage as determining the county seat or the railroad’s decision to go through Scottsbluff. Let’s end this now.
Let’s move forward with a new plan, a fresh one, not a repackaged plan that feels a lot like a merger under a different name. Someday, perhaps after we have taken small, measured, thoughtful steps to work together executed in a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect for all concerned, we may put away worries and distrust. What a bright vision to hold in our hearts and minds.
It is a worthy goal that can only be achieved after mutual respect has developed and been demonstrated not only among our leadership but also among individuals who participate daily in dialogue at the water coolers, coffee shops and online.
Today is a beginning for new things, new partnerships and new ways of doing things. Let us use this new spirit of willingness wisely and with prudence. Let’s calm down and get to work sowing the seeds of unity, not intolerance and mistrust.