By Michael Howell
Hamilton Police Chief Ryan Oster presented a proposal to the Hamilton City Council last week at its Committee of the Whole meeting that would expand the duties of the Animal Control/Parking enforcement officer and return it to a civilian position instead of using a sworn officer. Taking the opportunity following the recent resignation of Officer Phil Meis, Oster wants to expand the duties of the position to include investigation and enforcement of other Municipal Codes as well, including handling garbage and trash complaints, junk vehicles, nuisances, public peace and welfare violations, illegal burning and abandoned vehicle violations.
Oster said that prior to Meis taking on the job, it had always been a civilian position not involving a sworn officer and he wants to return to that set up. He said that in 1996 under the direction of former administrator Dale Huhtanen, Meis was given the job and a contract was negotiated in which he retained his status as an officer. The salary negotiated for the position was less than that paid a sworn officer but more than what had been paid to the civilian position in the past.
“My desire is to go back to that being a civilian position and I have presented you a modified job description for that position,” said Oster. The proposed salary would be $15.68 per hour but that could change subject to the result of current wage negotiations. He said the position was just for a day job and complaints at other hours and at night would be handled by one of the city’s sworn officers.
Oster noted that the process of enforcing municipal codes was primarily complaint driven because “that’s how the ordinances were written.” He said actual health and safety violations were handled differently.
Councilor Ken Bell asked if that meant that an officer who sees a violation but has no other witness would do nothing.
“Not necessarily,” said Oster. “But the vast majority of these things are generally handled and resolved by verbal contact.” He said people are warned about the violation and they take corrective action. Oster said that another way to express the distinction was that violations in the public right of way are one thing, “but it gets sticky when you get into private property.”
The council will consider the proposal at its next meeting.
Another item coming before the Council will be a Noxious Weed Management Plan for the City. Parks Director Terry Cole told the Council of the Whole that the City needed to adopt a weed management plan in order to be in compliance with the state’s Noxious Weed Act. He said the plan would address the various control methods including biological control using insects, commercial control using chemical sprays, mechanical control using mowing and pulling and the introduction of favorable vegetation to replace the weeds.
Cole said that chemical spray would be used wherever it was appropriate on public land in the city and specific weeds had been identified and located. He said on private property “we would not be going in and spraying wildly about but we will work closely with the landowner.” He said the use of chemical spray is one of the most misunderstood aspects of weed control. He said the City would have an employee trained and certified to use the chemicals and that they are safe when used correctly. He said the chemicals the City uses dissipate within two hours of the application but that the parks and other treated ground are closed off for the whole day.
“We want to educate the public and our employees on the use of these control methods,” said Cole. He said the city would use its web page, flyers, word of mouth, posters and newspapers to accomplish this.