PORTAGE — Stationing a police officer at City Hall last week was another volley in the battle between Mayor James Snyder and some City Council members.
City Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at large, said Snyder authorized posting an officer, who is getting paid overtime, in the lobby because of concerns over utility department bills being paid at the clerk-treasurer's office.
"The reason for the officer, according to the mayor, is due to the utility department receiving money, and possible irate customers. There is no difference from the old utility building across the street and the clerk-treasurer’s office," said Oprisko, who called on Snyder to put the officer back on the street.
Snyder did not return requests for comment.
"The logic used by the administration is that businesses pay with cash and large amounts of money is being taken to City Hall for utility payments. This is nothing but a joke. I would venture to say that 100 percent of businesses in Portage pay by check or online," Oprisko said, adding he believes the mayor is "out of control with what he is doing with taxpayer dollars."
Council member John Cannon, R-4th, disagrees and said he supports Snyder's decision.
"Until our clerk-treasurer can get his office redesigned, handling the increased traffic of residents and the amount of money that is now being handled in that office is very unsafe for our city's employees," Cannon said.
Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham said his office is safe. He said he has $30,000 to redesign his office for utility personnel to move in, but was delayed because State Board of Accounts auditors have been in his office for multiple weeks conducting an audit. They just recently completed their work, he said.
"This was just as much of a surprise to me as it was to the council. My office wasn’t consulted before the officer was posted. We started receiving utility payments at our office in November and haven’t had any issues since that time. To my knowledge, an officer was never posted across the street when they received payments there," Stidham said.
"Forever and ever this office has collected money, including the six years when he's (Snyder) been upstairs," Stidham said, adding the majority of people are paying with a check or online. He said it is no different from funds being taken in at the parks department or marina, neither of which have security.
Police Chief Troy Williams said he has some concerns about security at the building and has conducted a safety review.
"There are some very public facts that anyone who used to go to the old utilities office and now comes to City Hall can plainly see. The former utility service building, where payments had been made, contained a bulletproof drive-thru window to make it easier for residents and safer for employees. Inside the building, the employees were also behind locked doors and bulletproof glass," Williams said. "This proves that at some time in the past, there was an urgent sense of a need for security where the utilities payments were being made."
Stidham said he's not in favor of adding bulletproof glass to his office.
That, along with the stationing of an officer at City Hall, "sends a terrible message to the public," Stidham said.
"The front entrance to City Hall is freely accessible, and the clerk-treasurer’s office layout with regards to security is currently limited due to its antiquated design," Williams said, adding they will provide suggestions on security and will maintain the officer until they feel the building is safe.