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Bunker Hill faces staffing dilemma

BY Paige Conley - pconley@perutribune.com

The Bunker Hill Town Council faced a dilemma on whether to continue searching for a town marshal or not during their monthly meeting Monday night.

Bunker Hill has been without a town marshal since December when they fired the last person to officially hold the position, Aaron Dague, for conduct unbecoming of an officer.

Dague was later arrested by Indiana State Police on four felony counts for official misconduct, obstruction of justice, forgery and aiding or inducing the impersonation of a public servant.

Since then, the council has had several applicants for the position to which they chose to hire Reserve Deputy Jon Allen as Bunker Hill’s interim part-time marshal in April. Allen resigned a short time later, leaving Bunker Hill once again without a marshal.

The council has not reopened applications for the marshal position and, during their meeting, debated disbanding the police department and court altogether.

The discussion had many board members and Bunker Hill residents on edge as differing opinions were given on the matter.

Bunker Hill Town Court Judge Paul Slone was one of the residents against the idea of disbanding the police department and courts.

“If you don’t have a police force, you’re going to have crime,” Slone said. “A police force is a deterrent.”

According to Slone, there has already been a string of vandalism in the community that could be lessened with a town marshal patrolling the streets.

Bunker Hill Councilwoman Shana Grifis, who voiced her interest in the town marshal position in May, also feels the police department is necessary in the community.

Grifis stated in the meeting she’s already completed her tier two training and is slated to complete the town marshal training process in September. 

The only thing hindering Grifis and other interested candidates from applying for the position is the council’s decision to wait on reopening applications.

Town Council Vice President Don Jaberg, who has been on the fence about the matter since Dague, voiced his concerns to the council.

“Law enforcement has left a sour note with me over the past years and I think it could improve, but it hasn’t,” Jaberg said.

In response, Grifis said she doesn’t want the past mistakes of other former town marshals to reflect on her and she cares about what happens to the community.

Grifis said she has been training to be the next Bunker Hill Town Marshal for the last few months and has been paying for the process out of her own pocket.

“It’s not a paycheck to me,” Grifis said. “I care about this community.”

When Grifis asked about the position two months ago, she stated the council agreed to give the position to her; a sentiment Bunker Hill Town Council President Rae Ann Panther denied, stating the council couldn’t agree to give her the position if the applications weren’t open.

The discussion ended up stirring up even more feelings about the proper procedures of the council when choosing their next marshals.

Bunker Hill Town Council member Luis Nino brought up several issues he’s seen, including the council not going after the money from Allen for not completing his contract, other town marshals refusing to stay in city limits when it’s specified they are to remain in town when on patrol, and accusing the council of age discrimination when reviewing applicants for the marshal position.

“You know, Rae Ann, you guys have run this kangaroo court ridiculously and I’m trying to help because I live in this town,” Nino said. “I’ve lived here for a long time, but you guys have broken a lot of laws.”

After listening to the council’s dispute, one concerned Bunker Hill resident made a point to tell the council what she thought about their discussion.

“I have never seen a board that bickers so much between themselves about little nitpicky things,”said a Bunker Hill resident.

She also questioned the council on why they weren’t utilizing the resources available to them and asking for help?

In response, Panther addressed both issues and told the room each applicant had the opportunity to put in a resume and they were each discussed thoroughly.

“When you’re going to hire someone, you’ve got to look at the entire picture,” Panther said.

According to Panther, the bigger picture deals with their opening for a new Clerk-Treasurer.

Former Bunker Hill Clerk-Treasurer Andrea Newnum submitted her resignation letter to the council in April and has been acting as interim clerk since. Newnum’s last day is slated for the end of July.

In an effort to fill Newnum’s position, the council went to Miami County Council President Ethan Manning for assistance in finding a candidate for the position. Thus far, the search has turned up no results and Panther mentioned the council does have the ability to appoint someone from the council to fill the position.

“If we do not have a town clerk-treasurer, bills don’t get paid, salaries don’t get paid, nothing happens,” Panther said.

If the council is unable to find anyone to fill the position, they will have to turn to hiring a certified public accountant which will eat into their town marshal fund, according to Panther.

As a result, Grifis offered to fill the position until the council could find someone for the job and then she would apply to be town marshal.

This again brought up whether the town needs a police department to which Slone, who would be directly affected by the disbanding of the police department, stated the town needs a marshal.

“I don’t care if you keep my post or not. I don’t care if you keep the judge’s position or not,” Slone said. “This town needs a police force.”

The other citizens didn’t sympathize with Slone’s assessment of the situation seeing as the issue now lies with whether Bunker Hill will have the funds for both positions.

“It’s obvious you need to do away with the police department and the courts to get that money paid for to get a clerk or CPA firm in,” Bunker Hill resident Carl Wade said. “That position is more important right now than law enforcement.”

“It’s a proven fact this town can’t pay its bills in the past, how in the (expletive) are they going to try to take on a $30,000 or $40,000 police that’s only going to be here 32 hours,” Bunker Hill resident Bob Sutherland asked.

In the end, Jaberg made the motion to shut the marshal application reopening discussion down temporarily until the town can find the finances to reopen the position.

Panther seconded the motion and put it up to vote.

“We’re not saying we don’t want police here,” Panther said. “What we’re saying is, at this time, we are not opening anything for applications. We have no idea how much money we’re going to have or not have.”

The vote was undetermined as Jaberg and Panther voted yes, Grifis voted no, and board member Erica Murray voted to abstain.

When Grifis’ offer to take on the position of interim clerk-treasurer was revisited, she rescinded her offer.

The next town council meeting is slated for August 20 at 6:30 p.m.