Grundy Center City Council votes to keep local police department

GRUNDY CENTER – The Grundy Center Police Department will remain on the local beat – for now.

During the Grundy Center City Council meeting held on July 1, the council took action on a resolution that – had it passed – would have authorized a dissolution of the City’s police department ordinance to pursue a 28E agreement with the Grundy County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.

The resolution failed 2-3. Councilors Jason Kuester and Erika Lamp both voted to adopt the resolution, while councilors Merideth Mcdonald, Ryan Rasmussen, and Rick Smith all voted against the resolution in favor of retaining the local police force.

Ahead of the vote this week, the council held a town hall/special session back on Monday, June 24 at the community building to address the possibility of disbanding the GCPD due to budget constraints and ongoing staffing shortages.

Grundy County Sheriff Kirk Dolleslager spoke several times during the town hall in response to public comments and questions. He said Grundy Center’s current annual police budget was roughly $674,000, while his office’s bid to provide the community with 24/7 law enforcement services was $654,000.

If Grundy Center had entered into a contract with the Sheriff’s Office for the next fiscal year (which began on July 1), the county would have needed to hire four new deputies.

As it stands today, Grundy Center is still in a rather precarious predicament when it comes to providing law enforcement services to its community. To be at full staffing, the department should employ four full-time police officers plus a chief. While the GCPD’s employment roster currently lists eight officers, half of those are part-time and at least one full-time officer has submitted their resignation papers including Officer Jessica Bradley whose last day is scheduled for July 6.

Following Bradley’s departure, Interim Chief James Natvig along with Officers Brandon Bunker and Jacob Oberle will be the only full time officers remaining. The GCPD’s four part-time, reserve officers are Ryan Dehl, Jesse Huisman, Tyler McCormack, and Kyle Waugh.

Former Police Chief Alissa Twyford – who was present during the June 24 town hall – worked her final day on Sunday, June 30.

During the town hall, Officer Bradley provided public comments that laid bare the current status of the GCPD, telling the council, “[The burnout] is crazy. When you’re working 20-30 hours a week overtime just to cover down [for officer vacations, illness, training], you don’t get that time to see your family. … [officers] deserve to have a positive work-life balance and we do not get that. It’s really frustrating when you’re working five days in a row and 12-hour shifts – and that’s like 60 hours – and you just want to go home.”

Bradley also told the council she was in favor of Grundy Center contracting with the Sheriff’s Office – comments which were echoed by more than half a dozen law enforcement officers who also spoke during the town hall – stating, “I’m in support of county [law enforcement], if they can pay their officers a better wage and have a better work-life balance while still providing the same services for the community, I don’t see the harm in that. I see that as a benefit.”

Currently, GCPD officers are paid roughly $23 per hour, Sheriff Dolleslager said during the town hall, while deputies make about twice that amount.

According to Grundy Center City Clerk Kristy Sawyer, the council’s “next steps are to appoint a full-time police chief, fill vacancies and restructure the department.”

The city council’s vote on Monday night to stick with its own police department was also a vote, by default, to remain an anomaly in Grundy County when it comes to law enforcement services – no other community in the county besides Grundy Center currently has a local force.

What remains to be seen is how Grundy Center will address the police department’s continuing budget and staffing problems going forward.

Tama-Grundy Publishing reached out to Grundy Center Mayor ‘Doc’ Paul Eberline for comment following the vote Monday evening but had not yet heard back as of press time.