The Rice County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously today to approve a two-year Sheriff's Department contract to provide law enforcement coverage in Morristown.

The vote came after petition organizer Justin Duncan went before the commissioners with a petition signed by 329 registered voters from Morristown asking the County Board to table the decision, which would require the city to examine the issue more.

I did check with the Rice County Auditor's Office and there were 589 registered voters in Morristown during the 2016 general election. So if the signatures are from registered voters, then 55.8 percent signed the petition request.

County Board Chairman Jake Gillen told the handful of people in attendance from Morristown the board was not going to table the matter, but would take a vote on the sheriff's contract.

Gillen said, "It's going to be strictly up to the Morristown City Council to vote it up or vote it down. At this time we're going to vote on this so this is off our agenda. If you vote it down or you vote it up we will accept your wishes one way or the other."

Morristown Mayor Kurt Wolf spoke in support of the move saying, "I believe it's a great move for the city of Morristown. It's good for our residents and I believe in the professionalism we will get from the Sheriff's Department. I have no question this is a good move for us and I'm going to stand behind my decision 100 percent."

Morristown City Council member Lisa Karsten told commissioners she was starting her ninth year on the council and, "this is by far one of the toughest decisions we've made."

Karsten shared her belief that, "the Sheriff's Department is more qualified to build up" the local police presence, saying the local police department is down to a part-time officer.

Karsten added, "I've never hired police officers and neither has anyone on the council. I have confidence in the sheriff. I would like to move forward for the next two years and see how it goes."

Commissioner Galen Malecha made the motion to approve the contract and Dave Miller seconded the motion, with all board members voting for approval.

Sheriff Troy Dunn said he understood the emotion involved in the Morristown community saying, "I know this has been a very difficult decision for the council and citizens to look at possibly losing their police department, but I have assured everybody that we will provide top-notch law enforcement services with well-trained and well-equipped deputies. It's going to be a little different obviously instead of a blue uniform it'll be a tan uniform and black squad car, but I think that we can provide very, very great service to the citizens of Morristown."

The contract calls for the Rice County Sheriff's Department to provide 60 hours of in-town patrol coverage per week.

The Morristown City Council is scheduled to sign the contract May 1.


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