Police Chief to resign effective Aug. 12; chooses not to come back in part-time capacity
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – Hot Springs Mayor Bob Nelson used a portion of his Mayor Report at the end of this past Monday night’s July 18 City Council meeting to read a prepared statement addressing some “unintended consequences” following the discussions that took place at the July 5 City Council meeting, and also the subsequent Fall River County Herald-Star newspaper article reporting on the meeting.
In his comments this past Monday night, Mayor Nelson said, “The right of the taxpayers to know how the City of Hot Springs is managing their tax dollars and the obligation of the city to not publicly discuss employees in an open forum is a delicate balance.”
While describing the July 5 meeting, Mayor Nelson said a pair of discussions took place that both critically zeroed in on Chief of Police Jen Winscot, with the first being an agenda item that approved rehiring her in a part-time capacity following her pending resignation and also paying her mileage to commute from her new home in Sidney, Neb. The second discussion item was brought forth during Communications from the Public when it was asked why the city continues to hire untrained and uncertified officers. Concern was also raised as to why a recently resigned patrol officer, Darcie Engel, did not sign a contract that would have required her to payback the approximate $10,000 it cost the city to have her attend the recent 13-week Law Enforcement Training in Pierre.
Mayor Nelson then brought up a July 14 newspaper article about the July 5 council meeting which also included comments from Finance Officer Misty Summers-Walton who confirmed that both Chief Winscot and Officer Engel were aware of the need to have a signed S.D. Basic Officer Certification Policy. Because of that language in the newspaper article, Mayor Nelson said he’s been asked if there was an agreement or collusion between the Chief of Police and the patrol officer to avoid signing the contract.
While he did not say why the contract was not signed, he did say, “I can assure the public, there was no agreement regarding not signing that contract.”
He then went on to describe the “unintended consequence” of the July 5 council discussions and the ensuing July 14 newspaper article, which was the fact that Chief Winscot has decided she does not want to continue her employment with the city following her upcoming resignation, now reset for Aug. 12, and will not be requesting being paid mileage to come back and assist the department.
“I can’t say I blame her,” Mayor Nelson said. “Why would she stay where she’s not wanted or supported?”
The Mayor then described how Chief Winscot had worked 587 hours of overtime since Jan. 1, 2022, and how Captain Phil Shively had worked 376 hours of overtime during that same period.
“These two individuals have identified changes they believe will get our police department back on track. They’ve been working towards those goals. I suspect many of their plans will now be put on hold because of short staffing,” the Mayor said, while also expressing his concern that the city will now be placing an increased burden on the existing officers, which may increase the possibility of safety issues and employee burn-out.
He then thanked Chief Winscot for her service to the City of Hot Springs. “I regret your employment with the city ended the way it did,” he said. “You deserve better.”
Coming back to the topic of ensuring that the police officer training contract is signed, Mayor Nelson described a three-step plan moving forward to prevent the issue from happening again in the future.
Step 1 is to have the Chief and the Captain discuss the S.D. Basic Officer Certification Policy with all uncertified officer applicants and to have them acknowledge that their hire is dependent on them signing the policy. Step 2 will insure that the Finance Officer include that paperwork within the new hire packet for uncertified officers. And Step 3, any personnel actions taken by the city council in regards to new hire uncertified police officers will include language that states the hire is contingent on the officer signing the S.D. Basic Officer Certification Policy.
“I believe if everyone involved in the hiring of uncertified police officers follows these steps, we won’t have a future discussion about the reimbursement policy,” Mayor Nelson said.
The mayor then addressed “the elephant in the room,” which he said was the possibility of doing away with the City of Hot Springs’ police department and going with county-wide law enforcement. He said he remains opposed to doing that, but did want to hear from the public to learn how they feel. He encouraged residents of Hot Springs to share their opinions on the topic with the county’s and city’s elected officials for future discussion.