SD city may eliminate public safety director position, separate police, fire/EMS departments

The Mitchell City Council is considering an ordinance that would replace the role with separate police and fire/EMS chiefs, following the abrupt resignation of the city's public safety head


Sam Fosness
The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.

MITCHELL, S.D. — For the past five months, Mitchell's Department of Public Safety has been without a chief overseeing the divisions within the department, and it could stay that way.

At Monday night's meeting, the Mitchell City Council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance that would eliminate the role of the public safety director. However, the ordinance proposes splitting the Mitchell Police Department and the fire division and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) into two separate departments, which would mean the top leaders of those two divisions would become the chiefs, if the second reading of the ordinance is approved.

The city of Mitchell is considering eliminating its public safety director position and separating the city's police and fire/EMS divisions into independent departments.
The city of Mitchell is considering eliminating its public safety director position and separating the city's police and fire/EMS divisions into independent departments. (Photo/Mitchell Fire-EMS)

The council will vote on the second reading during the Dec. 7 council meeting, which will determine whether the leadership restructuring of the respective departments goes into effect.

"What this ordinance would do is separate the Police Department and Fire and EMS into two departments instead of divisions like it is currently," said City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein during Monday night's meeting. "In the past, we had one chief of public safety, and now you would have a department head over each one without that chief. We included in each job description that they are required to work toward common shared goals for the entire public safety efforts within the city of Mitchell."

The role of the chief of public safety entails overseeing both the Mitchell Police Department and the fire division and EMS. For decades, the city has had a chief of public safety overseeing both departments.

That changed after former Chief of Public Safety Glen Still abruptly resigned in July after 10 months on the job. Following Still's resignation, longtime Assistant Police Chief Mike Koster became the acting police chief, while Assistant Fire Chief Marius Laursen was tabbed as the leader of the fire division and EMS.

After monitoring the divisions following Still's resignation, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said operations were running smoothly. It led Everson and city officials to begin mulling over the possibility of doing away with a department of public safety chief.

"Things have been going really good with both departments, which is what prompted me to make this recommendation of the leadership restructure," Everson said. "There seems to be good cohesion with both Departments."

Ellwein and Mayor Everson recently met with employees from both departments to receive feedback on how work was going since Still's resignation.

"The mayor and I met with all the staff from both the fire department and police department, and took feedback without the department heads present, and received very good feedback about the potential change from those employees we spoke with," Ellwein said.

While Koster and Laursen would become the chiefs of their departments, should the second reading of the ordinance be approved, Ellwein said the pay grade for the positions will be "different from what we've seen." However, she noted the pay grades will be disclosed to the council during the second reading of the ordinance. Still's starting wage was $99,878.

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(c)2020 The Daily Republic (Mitchell, S.D.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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