May 16–Last week, Tina Kent, the wife of Forest Lake police officer Nicholas Kent, had to go home and tell the couple’s young children that their father had lost his job.
On Monday night, she had much happier news to share.
*Editor’s Note: See the original story of what led to the city council’s reversal HERE.
The Forest Lake City Council voted 4-1 Monday night to approve a new contract between the city and its police department exactly one week after voting for the department’s dissolution.
Tina Kent said the stress has been “sickening.”
“It’s been an extremely hard year, with the loss of (K-9 dog) Ranger, and with the possible loss of his job,” she said. “As of Monday, he had lost his job. I stormed out of here Monday night so mad. … When I got home, my 6-year-old could tell I was sad and had been crying. I had to tell him that Dad lost his job.”
But Kent and other members of the standing-room-only audience were all smiles and erupted in cheers after the vote was taken 6:45 p.m., just 15 minutes after the meeting started. Council member Mike Freer was the lone dissenter; he said he felt the new contract did not give the police chief enough local control.
Freer was one of three council members who voted last week to disband the police department and contract with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for police services. The controversial vote came after after months of protests from the city’s residents; a large walkout on Tuesday by students at Forest Lake Area High School and other schools made national news.
Among those celebrating in the hallway after the meeting was Officer Troy Meyer, who has suffered serious health problems over the past few years. “I’m extremely happy,” he said. “This has been so stressful, I think it took years off all our lives, just the up-and-down roller coaster.”
“But now, I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “It makes me proud to be a Forest Lake cop.”
Officer Thomas Cockburn hugged his pregnant wife, Jennifer, and 2-year-old son, Robert, as soon as the meeting ended. “We are expecting, and I’m very glad that my husband has a job,” Jennifer Cockburn said.
The new contract was hammered out last week by city and police officials after Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry withdrew the county’s proposal. It contains language that will keep the city’s police department operating through at least 2019.
“That gives us enough years to get through the next election,” Tina Kent said. “Then we can get people on the council who appreciate our cops.”
The contract includes annual pay raises — 2 percent in 2017 and 2018 and 3 percent in 2019 — and maintenance of retiree health benefits, which had been a concern in previous discussions. The agreement also calls for changes to the city’s arbitration and conflict-resolution process and a pledge to hire an outside consultant to improve department operations.
Audience members stood and gave the police officers who attended Monday’s meeting a long and boisterous round of applause when they entered council chambers. Among those showing their support was Pat Martin, a Forest Lake resident dressed in a black “Save our Forest Lake PD” t-shirt.
“I’m very glad it turned out the way it did and people got their law enforcement back,” Martin said after the meeting. “Now we can move on and become a community again, and, hopefully, the police force can finally relax and get on with their job.”
Rose Kent, Officer Kent’s mother, said the decision last week to disband the police department was “ridiculous.”
“I’ve never in my 60 years of life seen any town, once they have a police department, try to get rid of it unless there is really something deficient,” she said.
Rose Kent praised council members Mara Bain and Sam Husnik for their support of the department; the two are newcomers to the board, having been elected in November. Mayor Ben Winnick and council members Ed Eigner and Freer originally voted for the switch to the sheriff’s office.
“I’m very thankful for Mara and Sam and for the citizens and especially the high schoolers,” Rose Kent said. “They deserve the recognition.”
Bain said the Forest Lake community “accomplished the impossible” with Monday night’s reversal.
“The residents of Forest Lake knew back in January that this was going to be a 3-2 vote in the wrong direction, and they flipped it,” Bain said. “In order for the impossible to happen, every domino needed to be perfectly aligned and this community lined up the perfect set of dominoes. I couldn’t be more proud to represent the great people in Forest Lake. I can’t wait to see what we do next.”
(c)2017 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)
Visit the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) at www.twincities.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.