Lebanon City Council demurs on call to urge School Board to end campus cop position

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/7/2022 11:37:39 PM
Modified: 7/7/2022 11:35:02 PM

LEBANON — The City Council chose to take no action on a request that it encourage the Lebanon School Board to eliminate the city’s school resource officer.

The recommendation came at its regular meeting Wednesday from the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission, which the council formed in January to look into creating a welcoming environment of tolerance and respect in the city.

But while many councilors said they were sympathetic to the message the DEI Commission wanted to send, the consensus was that the council should stay out of school board business.

The SRO issue has been debated extensively, including two citywide non-binding votes that, by narrow margins, supported ending the SRO program.

Both of those public votes were accompanied by the Lebanon School Board voting to continue funding the position, including an April vote that extended the position through at least February 2024. The position’s cost is $120,000, split in half across both the school district and city budgets and taxes.

Councilor Karen Liot Hill said the SRO issue has created a lot of tension in the community but argued the City Council had no business getting involved in School Board decisions.

“People are frustrated, and I understand that,” Liot Hill said. “I think the appropriate venue for that frustration is with the School Board. They need to hold the School Board accountable.”

She said if people don’t like the decisions the school board makes, they should elect different school board members.

“I think it would be outside our jurisdiction to make this recommendation,” Liot Hill said. “It’s not our job.”

Councilors Clifton Below, Douglas Whittlesey, Chris Simon, Erling Heistad and Tim McNamara each spoke in support of Liot Hill’s position.

Below, the assistant mayor, pointed out the two political entities are different subdivisions of the state and, by law, have no statutory authority over each other, even on an advisory basis.

“Clearly, the community is divided,” Below said. “I think the appropriate thing to do is to take no action.”

And McNamara, the mayor, concurred.

“It’s largely a jurisdiction issue regardless of how I feel about the issue,” McNamara said. “If the motion is made, I will also vote no.”

In the end, no motion was made.

Councilor Devin Wilkie, who serves as a council representative on the commission and presented the commission’s request, said he could see there would be no second and would not make a motion.

Wilkie said the DEI Commission had researched and discussed the issue to create its recommendation, which came out of the commission’s June 7 meeting.

The commission’s recommendation asked the council to support a resolution, saying, “Given racial and (dis)ability inequities that result from police presence in schools, the City of Lebanon recommends discontinuing the School Resource Officer position in favor of supportive, non-punitive interventions, which may include increased social worker and mental health professionals, to benefit the City’s student population.”

School Board Chairman Dick Milius defended his board’s vote, saying members had considered the statistics presented by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission, but had also looked at local realities that aren’t supported by national numbers.

The school district has added a social worker position and created a new position, a District Director of Equity, Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, in an attempt to augment the work done by the SRO.

Milius also pointed out that they are distinct entities under the law, something Lebanon City Manager Shaun Mulholland addressed in an interview after the meeting.

Mulholland said the City Council decided on its own to not get into the issue, but he was prepared to tell the council the city doesn’t have any legal authority in the matter.

“This is clearly within the jurisdiction of the School Board,” Mulholland said. “We don’t tell the School Board how to run schools, and they don’t tell us how to pave roads or fight fires.”

Mulholland said the council approves a budget, but it has no authority over line items or operation decisions.

“The City Council doesn’t have jurisdiction over deployment of police officers; the chief does,” Mulholland said.

The city and the school district each contribute $60,000 to the SRO program.

“As long as the school district wants to have a school resource officer, we’re going to support that and provide that officer and support the school district,” Mulholland said, “as we have for the past 15 years.”

Darren Marcy can be reached at dmarcy@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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