Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Residents stand up for embattled chief

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MAINEVILLE — Angry residents packed a council meeting here Tuesday evening and warned village leaders not to drive off a longtime police chief by drastically cutting his pay.

        More than 50 residents jammed into the meeting that focused on the fate of Maineville Police Chief Joe Lane, who after recent cuts is the Warren County community's onlylaw enforcement officer.

        Last month, council members severed nine part-time officers from the department and stripped Chief Lane of his benefits and most of his pay, dividing many citizens in this rural community of about 1,000 residents.

        “You are making it awfully difficult for that man to stick around. Why are you making it so hard for him?” Maine- ville resident Patty Fraser asked village council members.

        Chief Lane made his anger clear to council members, whom he claimed had “a personal vendetta” against him.

        “This is unbelievable. You are trying to get rid of me,” the 30-year police veteran told the council.

        Previously he has accused council members of trying to push him out because of continuing friction over the annual Crossroads Celebration.

        Much of the tension, Chief Lane has said, comes from his refusal to force officers to work unpaid for the private festival, which does not benefit the village.

        Last month, council voted 4-3, with a tie-breaking vote from the mayor, to terminate the nine officers, cut Chief Lane's hours back to 15 a week, and slash the 58-year-old chief's pay to $10 an hour. Council also eliminated the chief's insurance and retirement benefits.

        That vote came five months after council had cut his annual salary by $7,000 to $21,000. Chief Lane has said he was forced to pick up part-time work as a carrier for the post office to pay his bills.

        But council members continued to defend their actions, saying there is nothing personal in their reductions of the chief's pay and benefits, but rather a bending to the village's dismal fiscal status.

        Donna Lambert, head of the village finance committee, said, “The council's interest is not to get rid of the police department, but to get the village's finances back in order.”

        A 1999 state audit revealed the village's finances were in disarray, a condition council members say was brought on by years of inexperienced, part-time village treasurers.

        Money for police comes from a levy that generates $19,600 a year, as well as an average of $20,000 annually from fines collected through mayor's court. The difference is paid from the general fund, village officials said. This year, court fines have taken a dip, with only $4,000 collected.

        In November, residents will be asked to increase their taxes by 1 mill to raise an another $11,300 annually for the police department.

        Currently Chief Lane is working about two days a week, while Hamilton Township police provide mutual aid to the village at no charge.


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