By Charles Sercombe
Some city councilmembers got to experience what it’s like to be a target during Tuesday’s meeting.
Several police officers and their supporters spoke out against a proposal by Councilmember Tom Jankowski to require officers to pay for half the cost of new bullet proof vests. The cost for the officers would come out of their clothing allowance.
That prompted Police Chief Mark Kalinowski to fire back: “That is absolutely ridiculous. It’s a safety item. I resent you would even think it’s an article of clothing.”
Others in the audience had even sharper comments.
“You should be ashamed,” said Kelly Casper to Jankowski.
The proposal has been roiling in the community for the past two weeks. Jankowski has had an issue with the unions representing police officers for refusing to accept wage concessions in light of the city’s looming $3.3 million deficit.
He apparently wanted to extend this debate by turning down a proposal by the Police Department to tap into a federal grant that will pay for half the cost of the vests.
The other half would be paid from the city’s drug forfeiture fund. That plan was presented two weeks ago by Police Chief Mark Kalinowski.
The deal, however, had to be acted on quickly. The federal grant requires that the vests be in possession of the department no later than Sept. 29. Jankowski got Councilmembers Cathie Gordon, Kazi Miah and Mohammed Hassan to delay a vote on the purchase until Tuesday.
Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole objected to the delay. (Councilmember Shahab Ahmed was absent.)
At Tuesday’s meeting, Jankowski backed off from his previous position, saying he delayed the purchase so he could make sure the finances were in place.
He said it was the duty of the council to be sure about the finances, “or we’re not doing our job.”
There was never a question of doubt from the city manager about the financial arrangement when the proposal was first presented to the council.
Jankowski said the police unions are still going to have to pitch in or face cuts elsewhere because of the projected deficit.
At the end of the discussion, Jankowski and the rest of the council voted unanimously to allow the purchase go through as originally proposed. But before that vote was taken, Councilmembers Gordon, Hassan and Miah explained why they voted to delay the purchase.
The three said they did so to make sure there was money to cover the cost.
Mayor Karen Majewski, who was not required to vote on the issue unless there was a tie, said it sounded more like Jankowski and the three councilmembers were trying to save face in light of the public outcry.
“There was a lot of backpedaling going on,” Majewski said.
(Charles Sercombe can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)