North Huron officially accepts OPP proposal for Wingham - June 28, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
While North Huron Council has oficially decided to go with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to provide service in Wingham, it’s still possible it won’t happen, which is making planning difficult for the municipality’s police services board.
Council, at its June 18 council meeting, formally accepted the proposal from the OPP by bylaw. Aside from that, council also asked the board to prepare exit costs for the existing Wingham Police Service.
During the board’s June 19 meeting, Chair Trevor Seip said there are many steps ahead of the board and the municipality, one of which could derail the entire process according to Wingham Police Chief Tim Poole.
Poole pointed out that North Huron had yet to contact the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, which ultimately needs to rule on whether the municipality can change services. He cited a recent example of another community going through a similar process, saying it took months.
Aside from the potentially lengthy timeline, Poole pointed out that North Huron may still end up with the Wingham Police Service in Wingham if the commission decided that was necessary. He reminded the association that, shortly after amalgamation, North Huron went through this process once before only to have the committee decide that Wingham should stay with its own police service.
Due to the unknown nature of the future of policing in Wingham, the board was faced with some difficult decisions to make regarding hiring new police officers to meet its memorandum of understanding with the Wingham Police Association.
Poole was midway through interviews to hire three new officers to attend police college in September when the board held its meeting last week.
He explained he had several interviews left, and that the status of the department going forward has been a topic of interest during the interviews.
While Poole did, later in the meeting, say it was difficult to hire under the condition that department may not exist in the near future, he pointed out that, if the commission ruled that the Wingham Police Service should stay, not proceeding with hiring now would make it very difficult for the board to meet its commitment to the association to have two officers on every shift by April of next year.
Throughout the discussion, Poole said that he was told by North Huron administration that the OPP wouldn’t be taking over until February at the earliest, whereas the first batch of new hires would be graduating from the police college and on active duty in Wingham in January.
The board wondered about the financial implications of continuing hiring, with member Kathy Adams pointing out that taxpayers would essentially be paying officers to go to school.
Board member Bill Gregoriadis said that he believed people would still consider a job with North Huron because any experience is good experience and getting through the college would give the hires “a foot in the door”.
Seip pointed out that anyone hired would be entitled to a severance package, minimal though it might be.
After debating the issue, the board decided to have Seip and Vice-Chair Joan van der Meer talk to the association and ask if delaying the hiring and training was a possibility, though van der Meer aired some frustrations about the process.
“I think we have a duty to talk to [the association],” she said. “We’ve been forced [between] a rock and a hard place by council flip-flopping. We negotiated in good faith based on a decision that was made and it got changed.”
The board passed a motion to have Seip and van der Meer meet with the president and vice-president of the association regarding the hiring process and asking to delay hiring until the commission made its decision.
The motion didn’t include wording to either delay or encourage Poole from going ahead with hiring because the board hoped to meet with the association before Poole was set to hire new officers.
If the association wasn’t amicable to the request, Seip said he would call a meeting of the board in early July to further discuss the issue. The board doesn’t typically meet in July or August, however Seip said that a meeting in August was likely unavoidable.
Seip went on to explain that North Huron’s request for exit costs was something that, following the council meeting at which it was requested, wasn’t feasible.
“I had a discussion with [Chief Administrative Officer Dwayne Evans] about the exit costs,” he said. “I told him it’s premature for us to calculate what some of those costs may be.”
Seip said that, while base salary is easy to determine, overtime and banked time would be difficult to forecast.
Poole pointed out that the severance would be different for officers hired by the OPP.
The board passed a motion to defer the request until more information regarding the future of the department was made available.