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Mabton police coverage comes under fire

MABTON - Mabton police coverage and police department finances proved to be a hot topic at a packed regularly scheduled city council meeting last night, Tuesday.

Discussion began during study session when Councilman Angel Reyna questioned Police Chief Robert Perales's Oct. 15 paycheck.

Council met on Oct. 14 and made the decision to stick to the city's wage-setting ordinance, which establishes Perales's pay at $1,875 a month, as opposed to the $4,000 a month Mayor Velva Herrera had set in July.

Reyna questioned why Perales's pay for the day of Oct. 15 wasn't reflecting a pro-rated amount. Perales was to get paid half of $4,000 for 14 days and a pro-rated amount for the 15th day.

City Clerk Kitty Zavala told council that she initially issued a check reflecting a pro-rated 15th day of work, but Herrera told her to issue a check for half of the $4,000, which Zavala did.

That's when things got heated. When council members began to question Herrera, she responded, "What's one day, people?".

Councilman Mario Martinez countered, "Rules are rules."

Council moved to have Perales reimburse the city.

Reyna then said he wanted to state for the record that he "totally disagrees" with Perales informing citizens and media the times that police officers are not on duty in the city.

Councilwoman Vera Zavala said, "I understand the chief's frustrations but I think it needs to be private."

Martinez said, "I would really hope we're not trying to operate out of fear, to play on fear to get what you want. I don't think that's the proper route to go."

He then said the constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms and that's a good place to start in terms of protecting one's home.

Citizen Mark Gorneau disagreed. "(Criminals) aren't scared of us. If we have guns, we have guns. But they are afraid of officers. In a sense, it is better to have an officer out there."

Martinez then questioned why the budget information council received last night reflects overspending in the police department to the tune of roughly $63,000.

"How is that going to affect us in the upcoming budget," he asked. "We're digging deep holes already."

Citizen Sophie Sotelo said, "If we've overspent by that much, it needs to be accounted for."

Perales said that last night's meeting was the first he has heard that his department has overspent.

Gorneau directed his comment to Martinez and said, "Months ago you said that (the police department overspent and was) $60,000 in the hole." Councilwoman Zavala said, "That was last year. This time, (we're) talking about this year."

She added that between last year and so far this year, the police budget is overspent by $160,000.

"This is the first I'm hearing about it," said Perales. "I strongly think that total is false."

Perales said that the 2008 police department expenditure report council received is not correct because the figures are those of 2007 and that they are mislabeled on the sheet.

He added after the meeting that line items are being misapplied, like the student resource officer. He said SRO wages and benefits are being factored into the police department budget when its not supposed to be.

He said 2007 figures are off, too, adding that the state paid for officer overtime that year while one officer was on vacation.

Zavala, the city clerk, said the 2008 expenditures presented to council are correct and up to date. After the meeting, she said that in terms of SRO funding, that would be factored into revenues and it would be "a wash." She said that as long as the assistant clerk is receiving revenues, it's being reflected in the revenue report.

Citizen comment, which was already out of hand and order, began to get even more heated.

Reyna said that he strongly disagrees with Perales serving as SRO and chief and that he checked with the city's municipal research consultant, who said that Perales working both positions is incompatible.

Martinez said, "I don't feel comfortable paying this money when (the research company) is questioning it."

Herrera said, "I feel there's not a problem with it."

Citizen Maria Rose began to argue about the council sticking to its wage setting ordinance, stating that she asked if the mayor had broken any laws by giving Perales the unauthorized raise, and the city attorney said no. Martinez said that it was later learned that she had, Rose just wasn't aware of it.

Rose then began to argue about the city's decision to fix streets, but not give Perales a raise or let him work full time.

Martinez explained that money for each come out of different funds and he also clarified that the only expense the city has for the streets is the $1,050 needed to revamp manholes that were discovered during the work.

"It's not true to say that's the same money (as police chief pay)," Martinez said.

Gorneau jumped into the fray and clarified that the city doesn't pay for Perales to work as SRO, the school district does.

Gorneau said, "So you're just going to leave the schools unattended."

Zavala responded, "We just want to make sure it's legal."

As of the end of the meeting, no action was taken to pull Perales as SRO. But city staff was directed to investigate whether or not it's legal.

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