Norton is new Police Chief, two other certified officers hired
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – Hot Springs Police Officer Ross Norton was officially hired as the new Hot Springs Chief of Police, effective Sept. 7, following personnel actions by the Hot Springs City Council at their Tuesday, Sept. 6 meeting. Norton replaces previous Police Chief Jen Winscot who resigned earlier this summer following her family’s move to Nebraska.
Chief Norton was on hand at last week’s council meeting and also spoke to the council regarding two additional police officer hires, which were also approved by the council. They include Justin Richardson and Kenneth Ayers, who are both already certified officers.
According to Chief Norton, Richardson has more than seven years experience as a military police officer and also a combined 11 years as a civilian police officer in Colorado and South Dakota. Ayers is also a military veteran who brings with him a combined 18 years of law enforcement experience from Arizona, South Dakota, North Dakota and the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Chief Norton said there were six interviews (2 with certified officers and 4 with uncertified officers) conducted for the three open police officer positions, and that both Richardson and Ayers came in with the kind of experience in which the City of Hot Springs was seeking. He said he felt the two individuals accepted the city’s offer because of the recent increase in pay, and also because of the city’s increased training budget, which will allow them, as field training officers, to not only share their experience with others but also allow them to further their education as well.
At the time of last week’s meeting, Chief Norton said an offer had also been extended to fill the final remaining police officer position to one of the uncertified interviewees, but the individual had not yet accepted the position. Chief Norton said that he has reserved two positions with the Law Enforcement Training Center in Pierre to send prospects for training in either November 2022 or March 2023.
“By no later than May of next year, we’ll have eight full-time sworn (certified) officers,” Norton assured the council, which was greeted by applause from both the council and audience.
Later in the meeting, as a discussion-only agenda item, Mayor Bob Nelson said the city council has agreed to begin discussions with the Fall River County Commission about the possibility of creating countywide law enforcement, instead of the City of Hot Springs’ own police force. He said the meetings will remain behind closed doors – with representatives from the County Commission, Sheriff’s Department, City Council and Police Department – but that once an agreement can be made, it would be shared with the public for their input on whether or not to move forward.
Mayor Nelson maintained his personal preference to not go to countywide law enforcement, but also stated that the decision should not be left up to himself or the city council, but rather it should be the decision of community members themselves.
He encouraged any resident of Hot Springs to reach out to their ward’s council representative and to share their feelings on the topic.
In regards to another “discussion only” agenda item, Mayor Nelson provided an update on the Hot Springs Urban Reconstruction project, which is now behind schedule approximately three months, or 77 work days. He said 17 days are weather-related, 46 days due to city utility reasons and 14 days due to changes in the plans.
A detailed list of the 2022 phases of work is available online at www.hotspringsreconstruction.com. Mayor Nelson added that in addition to the 2022 work planned for the areas south of University Avenue, there will also be utility work being done on North River Street, between Jennings and Minnekahta Avenues, during the remaining month of this year as well.
The council also spent considerable time discussing an agenda item which would have appropriated $2,500 to build and install a shower in an airport hangar, which can be used by pilots who fly into Hot Springs. Airport Director Rick Breitenbach was on hand to speak about the plans, which he said will help encourage pilots and their passengers to camp at the airport and thus spend more time in the area and spend additional money on fuel and in the community. Breitenbach said the bid includes a donated on-demand water heater.
Finance Director Misty Summers-Walton pointed out during the discussion that the airport was already over-spending their budget by approximately $7,500 and expressed concern about appropriating any additional unbudgeted funds. City Administrator Jeff Temple stated that the airport had also already generated about $10,000 in additional revenue from fuel sales, hangar rental and courtesy car rentals, which should be considered to help offset the request for additional funds, which also carry with it the possibility of seeing a return on the investment.
Ultimately the council rejected the motion by a 5 to 2 vote, with only Debra Johnston and Linda Varvel voting in support. Voting against the motion was Craig Romey, Larry Pratt, Bill Lukens, J.R. Huddleston and Melanie Wilson.
After this vote, the council approved, by a 4 to 3 vote, a motion to appropriate $1,000 to assist with the purchase of a third airport courtesy vehicle from Hills Edge Auto. The vehicle is a Dodge minivan and is expected to be purchased for around $4,500 which includes $3,500 of budgeted funds previously allocated to purchase a mower which is no longer necessary due to Breitenbach repairing the old mower.
Again after considerable discussion, voting in favor of the $1,000 was Lukens, Varvel, Johnston and Huddleston. Votng against was Pratt, Romey and Wilson.
Earlier in the meeting during Communications from the Public, county resident Susan Henderson spoke for 10 minutes in regards to uranium mining and the 458 people who signed a petition to get the practice deemed a nuisance on the November election ballot. She asked for the City of Hot Springs’ support to encourage city residents to vote ‘yes’ on the measure which will make it unlawful to mine uranium in Fall River County. She added that Hot Springs attorney Jim Sword was the architect of the petition.
Last week’s meeting also included an update from Keep Hot Springs Beautiful President Shelley Hagans-Brown who summarized some of the highlights of the past year for the organization, which made note of their 216 volunteers and the 1,627.75 volunteer hours generated during their various events over the past fiscal year. She said the volunteer work equates to an approximate $19,533 value, had those individuals been paid $12 per hour.
Hagans-Brown was thanked by the council for all of her and her organization’s work and for their involvement with the ongoing Hot Springs Urban Reconstruction and for their expanded role in maintaining the future bumpouts (street corner pods) for the City of Hot Springs. Hagans-Brown said KHSB has budgeted more than $25,000 to purchase supplies for the new bumpouts. She also added, for their group to be successful in the future, they will need increased support from the community in the form of additional volunteers.