More resignations at police department: Mayor sees light at the end of the tunnel

The last week has been a whirlwind for the Lovell Police Department with two more experienced dispatchers resigning on the heels of head dispatcher Ron Salyer, a 21-year veteran of the department, who submitted his resignation on Tuesday, July 28.  Salyer was offered and has accepted a dispatch position with the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff Ken Blackburn defended hiring Salyer, stating that he made it clear to Police Commissioner Scott Allred that he planned to hire Salyer when it became inevitable that he was planning to quit his job at the Lovell Police Department.

“I felt it was critical that we keep his 21 years of experience in the county,” said Blackburn. “His knowledge of the north end of the county is invaluable to us. His technical knowledge will help us handle some of the upgrades we are currently making and he will help us serve the people of the county.”

Blackburn pointed out that Salyer was unhappy enough to take a significant pay cut to work with the sheriff’s department and will be adding two hours of commuting to his day, since he lives in Lovell.

With the department still reeling from the resignation of Salyer, another experienced dispatcher, Aaron Harris, submitted his resignation only two days later on Thursday, July 30. His last day on the job was Aug. 1.

In an interview with the Lovell Chronicle, Harris, a dispatcher with the department for seven years, cited similar concerns as Salyer and others regarding lack of leadership and lack of communication between town officials and the department.

On Monday, yet another fulltime dispatcher, JJ Callahan, also submitted his resignation, giving two weeks notice. Callahan has worked as a dispatcher for the Lovell Police Department since October of 2012. His last day on the job will be Aug. 14.

Callahan said, “There’s just too much going on and I don’t want to deal with it anymore.  I feel like nothing is being done to alleviate the problem.”

Fire Chief Jim Minchow expressed understandable concern since his department makes a significant financial contribution to cover the cost of dispatch services required by the fire department. He said that he is concerned that there are currently not enough dispatchers left to cover the tasks at hand, including providing dispatch for fire, police and ambulance services. He said, though he has considered the option of contracting for dispatch services through the sheriff’s department in Basin, he would prefer to have it based in Lovell.

“It seems like we are maxing the dispatchers out as far as possible,” said Minchow. “The ones left (Jennifer Massey, Angie Morley Brown and two casual relief operators) are bending over backwards to get the job done.”

He added that it made him feel sad to see the community lose so many good officers and dispatchers at one time.

“All we can do is move forward and stay positive,” said Minchow. “I think the mayor and the council need to work together. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

In an interview with the Lovell Chronicle on Tuesday, Mayor Angel Montanez said interviews are already scheduled for Friday to fill the vacant positions left by those exiting the dispatch center. He noted that at least one of the candidates has previous experience and he anticipates that the positions will be filled within a short period of time.

Montanez said he was somewhat surprised by the resignation last week of Sgt. Steve Allred, who had told him during a chance encounter at the Brandin’ Iron Restaurant the Saturday before his resignation that everything was going OK.

He denied that all of the officers were putting in massive overtime hours, noting that the Town Clerk Valerie Beal told him it was mostly Allred who took on the overtime. He said he felt Allred had control of the delegation of overtime, since he was acting in a supervisory capacity, and could have spread it out among the other officers.

Montanez indicated that Allred’s resignation may have been somewhat premature, since he had already appointed a hiring committee (Dan Anderson, Kris Brimhall, Brandon Jolley, Steve Coleman, Jason Beal, Scott Allred and Minchow) and the committee was already in the process of interviewing several good candidates for police officers. He noted that since Allred’s resignation part-time officer Matt Koritnik was promoted to full-time, Luke Welch was added as a full-time officer and David Blankenship was hired as a part-time officer, essentially shoring up the vacant positions on the police force.

Koritnik began his career with the Lovell Police Department but left for a relatively short period of time to work with the Lander Police Department. Montanez said he checked with Koritnik’s employer in Lander and they were very impressed with his work.

“It was kind of a no-brainer,” said Montanez. “He is very experienced, he passed all the required tests, had good references and he was already working for us part-time. So, when a fulltime position came up it made sense to hire him.”

Though Welch is new to law enforcement, Montanez said the committee was very impressed with him and he thought Welch gave a very intelligent interview, adding that, though he sat in on the interviews, he pretty much went with the committee’s recommendations.

Blankenship is new to the area but has law enforcement experience and is certified in another state with more than 1,000 hours of post-academy training. He also has some criminal justice college credits and family ties in the area.

Montanez said though the search continues for a chief, there are two candidates that have expressed interest and are under consideration.

“We’re still looking, but I don’t just want to take anyone,” said Montanez. “I want to make sure it’s the right person and they are serious about the position.”

In the meantime, he said, Dan Anderson is acting as lieutenant.

“I think the ones who left (the police department) were going to leave anyway,” said Montanez. “I think we have a good group now. There was a lot of negativity with the old chief leaving. These people have made their choice to stay and I believe they are honestly here for the community.”

Blackburn expressed a certain amount of concern regarding the turmoil in Lovell, but said his department stands ready to assist in any way it can.

“Lovell has been without a police chief for (several) months and what I do know is that it has created a tremendous strain on officers,” said Blackburn. “Leadership is critical for the direction of any department.

“People are prone to rationalize and make excuses and to ignore the facts. The facts are that this has been a drain on everyone, including the citizens of Lovell. I will not speak ill of the public administration in this matter; they are trying to do the best job they can.

“I am not going to get into the politics of any situation. I was elected to help the people of Big Horn County and Lovell is in Big Horn County and we stand ready to help them with any needs they may have.”

By Patti Carpenter