By Steve Plunkett
Coastal mayors will meet for lunch this month to see how they might help one another, share or contract out police and other municipal services and perhaps trim town budgets in the process.
Basil Diamond of Manalapan began contacting his counterparts to the north, south and west right after he was sworn in in March. Meanwhile, Ken Kaleel of Ocean Ridge invited Diamond and the mayors of Gulf Stream, Briny Breezes, Lantana and South Palm Beach to a get-together with him May 26 to meet one another.
“We have some new guys on the block,” Kaleel said of Diamond and Mayor Donald Clayman of South Palm Beach, who also just won a first term after serving as acting mayor for three months.
Kaleel said the main reason for the luncheon was social, “because not everyone knows one another,” but that common concerns would likely be discussed.
Manalapan commissioners, for example, continue to look for ways to reduce their police budget, currently $1.04 million a year, perhaps by taking over police duties for South Palm Beach and Lantana’s portion of Hypoluxo Island or having them taken over by Ocean Ridge or the county sheriff.
Diamond was disappointed with a brief phone call he had with Clayman.
“He did comment that he thought that everything was perfect in South Palm Beach and he didn’t want to consider making any changes,” Diamond said. “But I think that if we get to the point that we have some specific changes or proposals of common interest that we can make, that might change his position.”
Kaleel, on the other hand, was “extremely interested” in working together, Diamond said.
“He said to me that everything’s on the table. If we can find a more efficient way to solve municipal problems, be more efficient, he’s eager to do it,” Diamond said.
Manalapan wants to cut its budget 25 percent by 2013 and to match or beat Gulf Stream’s per-capita police and fire finances by 2017.
Manalapan residents each pay $5,720 a year on police, dispatching and fire services; Gulf Stream’s pay only $2,345, Manalapan Town Manager Linda Stumpf said.
Stumpf’s compilation showed Palm Beach residents pay $2,918 a year on police, fire and dispatching; those in Ocean Ridge pay $1,091 and those in South Palm Beach pay $614.
Diamond said he will keep calling his mayoral neighbors and hopes to meet individually with each one before Kaleel’s May 26 powwow. “So I think were making some progress in that direction,” he said.
Manalapan to improve police interactions
The cost of services is not the only hurdle facing Manalapan’s Police Department. Its chief just revised hiring procedures and took steps to improve how officers treat people following complaints from several residents and a task force investigation.
“We will try to meet everyone — residents, strangers, even criminals maybe for a few seconds — in the most polite way that we can, as long as we can control the situation and ensure safety for everyone involved,” Chief Clay Walker told Manalapan commissioners at their April meeting.
Walker also said he was assigning two senior officers to handle code enforcement duties and casting a wider net for applicants by using Internet job sites.
The changes were recommended by Town Commissioner David Cheifetz after he and residents Jack Murphy and Peter Isaac reviewed the Police Department’s recruitment and training procedures. Isaac the previous month had said he and his wife were not treated with proper respect during a code enforcement action.
“I think this whole thing could be a template for how we deal with issues in the future,” Cheifetz said.
Cheifetz noted that police officers receive extensive training in law enforcement but little guidance in code enforcement skills. “This situation is exacerbated with younger officers, who may not have had the life experiences to enable them to deal [with] the subtleties of code enforcement issues,” his report said.
Isaac had said a junior officer handled his code enforcement case.
Walker said he has changed the department’s application package to state that five years experience is preferred. “Hopefully, this will encourage more officers with prior experience to apply,” he wrote in a response to Cheifetz’s report.
Besides recommending that the best officers be assigned to code enforcement, Cheifetz and his team said the rest of the staff should get lessons on how to better deal with such incidents.
The suggestion did not sit well with Commissioner Louis DeStefano.
“If you have to train someone how to talk to residents in a polite way, you’ve got a problem to begin with,” DeStefano said. “I don’t think you should train somebody to do that. They have to have that to begin with.”
Municipal police and fire costs
Town Number Cost per resident
of residents for police, fire
Gulf Stream 720 $2,345
Lantana 9,704 $717
Manalapan 406 $5,720
Ocean Ridge 2,700 $1,091
South Palm Beach 3,200 $614
Source: Town of Manalapan