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Nelson expected to step down as NY Mills police chief

Louis Hoglund

Perham Enterprise-Bulletin

The five-year experiment in sharing a police chief between Perham and New York Mills will likely end with the new year.

A joint powers committee decided in October to recommend the two-city pact be dissolved. Police Chief Brian Nelson is interested in retaining the position as Perham Police Chief, which means New York Mills will be appointing a new chief, assigned entirely to the city.

Approval is expected by both city councils in November. The shared police chief position would dissolve Jan. 1, 2008.

"I do have a few skills, but one of them isn't being able to be in two places at the same time," said Chief Nelson in an interview.

A chief for each town has always been Nelson's preference, but he somewhat reluctantly went along with the shared police chief arrangement at a time when city budgets were stressed. The state cut local government aid to municipalities, and both New York Mills and Perham were searching for ways to financially streamline operations.

"The shared police chief concept has worked well, but it isn't ideal," said Chief Nelson. "I find that we're always reacting...I'd like to be more proactive, but I just don't have time."

Nelson scheduled himself essentially every other day in each town. The intention was that he would never be out of either office for more than two days. The system worked, for the most part, but he said he was "always playing catch-up."

"Let's face it, Perham isn't getting any less busy - and neither is Mills," said Nelson. Serving two towns, the work tended to pile up, and both citizens and council members couldn't get immediate attention on issues.

The original shared chief concept was an innovative and progressive move for both cities, acknowledged Nelson.

"But as cities grow, and police departments have more demands. The activity level in Perham goes up every year. Perham is probably one of the busiest towns of its size in the entire state....It is in the best interest of Perham to have a full-time chief," he said.

The "two-timing" police chief arrangement dates to August of 2003. At that time, Nelson's salary of $50,500 was split about 50-50 between the two towns.

The Perham and New York Mills city councils will need to budget for an increase in cost for 2008, though negotiations with the chiefs are pending.

The two-town chief arrangement served its purpose. "It worked; it wasn't perfect; it wasn't ideal," said Nelson.

"I'm not naive enough to say that it worked because of my great talent, it was really because of the staff," said Nelson. "A lot of staff really had to step up to the plate....The guys had to do a lot of work that really fell under the job description of a chief."

Salary negotiations are pending. Nelson said he would be expecting a salary that would be comparable to that of a chief in a community of similar size.

The New York Mills City Council will need to make an appointment for the chief's position. So far, they have a recommendation from Chief Nelson: Officer Jason Hoaby.

"I'm recommending to the council that they consider promoting the senior patrolman," said Nelson. "He is responsible, he's a good cop, and has good common sense."

The NY Mills City Council meets Nov. 13 and will discuss the situation further.

As for Nelson, the prospect of finishing his career with Perham is fitting. He started his career in Perham, basically as a summer job while he was attending school for law enforcement. That was back in 1974.

"I really love both towns, and they've both been good to me," he said.