Officer Steve Johnson named to SRO position

Janesville police officer Steve Johnson (left) was named the new school resource officer for Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton district. Above: Johnson received an award for his leadership in a regional drug enforcement team from city police Chief David Ulmen. (Dana Melius/Waseca County News)

Janesville City Council members Monday approved the selection of Steve Johnson for the school resource officer position at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton Public Schools.

The two-year partnership between the JWP school district and the city marks the return of the SRO post between the two entities. The city previously opted out of such a shared agreement in 2012 in budgetary cutbacks.

Janesville city officials had agreed at its April 23 meeting to giving the SRO position a try, with JWP picking up 70 percent of the cost of the anticipated $64,000 annual cost. The previous SRO contractual obligation was a 50-50 share.

At Monday’s meeting, council members officially approved the hiring of Johnson, currently a full-time member of the Janesville Police Department, as the new SRO. Johnson would remain a city employee, but Janesville’s 30 percent cost toward the position would only be $19,000, with the JWP district picking up the remainder.

Johnson said his duties have yet to be established with JWP school officials. But those job assignments and how the school district and city will share Johnson’s time are expected to be worked soon. The new JWP school year runs July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.

The decision also prompted the elevation of Sheila Appel from part-time status to a full-time position with the Janesville Police Department. But that decision didn’t come without debate.

Councilor Ron Cummins voted against the immediate hiring of a full-time Janesville police officer. He cited concerns over a long-term financial commitment to an SRO, as well as citing past problems the partnership experienced, which forced staffing issues for the Janesville Police Department.

“I don’t want to rush into this,” Cummins said.

City Administrator Clinton Rogers was absent from Monday’s meeting, but in a memorandum to council members said the personnel committee recommended the hiring of Johnson and the hiring of Appel to full-time status.

Cummins wanted some assurance that should the city opt out of the SRO contract at any time that Appel would understand her full-time position would not be continued because Johnson would continue to hold seniority in the department. She said that was her understanding.

“I don’t know why there’s a hesitation here,” Appel said. She cited her two years experience as a part-time Janesville police officer and commitment to law enforcement.

The Appel hiring was approved in a 3-1 vote, with Cummins dissenting. Mayor Mike Santo and council members Russ Wiebold and Kari Grisim approved the hire. Council member John Sprengeler was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Appel is expected to begin her full-time patrol duties July 16.

In other council news, Rene Niemczyk of the Janesville Beautification Committee again addressed the council to encourage city officials to continue efforts toe clean up properties throughout the community, including Main Street commercial building sites.

The ongoing effort to try and force the clean up of the former Dog House Bar and Grill, which was destroyed in a late December 2017 fire, has prompted community residents to come before the council’s public forum to force action. While Mayor Santo acknowledged similar frustrations, he has previously cited that delays because of insurance disputes and the need for “due process” have slowed clean-up efforts.

But Santo also relayed some good news, suggesting that owners of the adjacent Wiste’s Meat Market, which has remained closed since the fire, have told him that they are hoping to rebuild the business’ north wall in hopes of reopening the key Janesville Main Street establishment.

That news was greeted by applause from the dozen citizens attending the Monday council meeting.

City officials said 40 letters have been sent to property owners for issues “from mowing to junk in yards to business fronts,” Santo said, encouraging clean-up efforts.

Reach Dana Melius at 507-931-8567.

Former Regional Managing Editor, Adams Publishing Group--Southern Minnesota/Western Division: St. Peter Herald, Waseca County News, Le Center Leader, Le Sueur News-Herald. Now serving as a freelance reporter.

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