Aurora council updated on Police Chief search, ARPA funding

Seth Kinker
Aurora Advertiser

The Aurora City Council met on Jun. 13 for their meeting, with City Manager Jon Holmes’ report taking most of the time updating council on various topics before going into closed session.

Under council forum, a chance for council members to talk about any meetings they attended or other items not on the agenda, Mayor Jason Lewis said he spoke to Holmes about researching an ordinance for tethered animals to prevent dogs from being chained to a tree or something of a similar nature for weeks, months or years.

Under new business, resolutions 2021-1819 and 2021-1820 were passed by council.

Resolution 2021-1819 authorized city staff to execute the bid award for the commercial grade galvanized fence for Baldwin Park.

One vendor, Robinson Fence, responded and their bid was reviewed at the Jun. 29 park board meeting with the total cost equaling $29,650. $16,500 for materials, $750 for delivery and $12,400 for installation.

Holmes said the bid was within the cities budgeted cost and that they’ve continued searching and requesting donations, with 56 letters being sent out to local businesses in the last couple weeks and waiting for replies.

Council member Doyle Ferguson clarified that the fencing was for the dog park at Baldwin Park.

Resolution 2021-1820 authorized city staff to award the bid for the land application of biosolids in the wastewater department to Hillhouse Pumping Company.

Below are items discussed at length from Holmes’ City Manager report.

Police

Earlier this year, Aurora Police Chief Richard Witthuhn announced his retirement, staying on force until Jul. 9, a position he had held since Oct. 2010.

A law enforcement career that spanned 42 years, Witthuhn served 21 years with the Wichita Police Department in Wichita, KS as a Police Officer and as an Investigator.

In 2006 Chief Witthuhn relocated to Missouri, filling the role of Chief of Police for the Reeds Springs Police Department, until relocating to serve the City of Aurora in October of 2010.

“The City of Aurora was fortunate to have such a seasoned professional with the wide array of experience and knowledge with Chief Witthuhn. He has led the department through some challenging times, and his efforts to improve the level of police services in the Aurora Community has been truly appreciated” said Holmes in the press release announcing Wittuhn’s retirement. “Rick has endeavored to leave the Department and the City better than when he found it, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his diligent efforts.” Holmes continued.

Mayor Jason Lewis thanked Chief Witthuhn for his efforts and added “42 years at any job is amazing; that’s 42 years of protecting the public, always being on call, dealing with some of the toughest situation imaginable, and working to ensure our Police Staff are doing the best job possible for the betterment of the community. Retirement for Chief Witthuhn has been more than earned and is certainly deserved.”

The advertisement process for a new chief began at the end of the week Wittuhn announced his retirement in May. Advertising internally and externally, the city has five candidates vying for the position.

With a Captain currently serving in an interim capacity, a public reception for all five candidates that is open to the public will take place on Jun. 27 at 6 p.m. in council chambers that will have candidates informally interacting with council members, community members, department heads and fellow officers.

American Rescue Patriot Act (ARPA)

The latest round of government funding for COVID19 related assistance was discussed at length under the administration and finance update of Holmes’ report.

“ARPA funding guidelines are coming down from the Treasury Department,” said Holmes. “Betty and I are working on sorting through those, we’re thinking we should have a work session to discuss how to best utilize those funds once those final rules are set by the Treasury Department.”  

Holmes added that he and Lewis had discussed how they do their community partner funding. Holmes provided council with a rundown of the past few years about how the city has handled community partner funding, how much they’ve given, etc.

The ARPA funds, according to Holmes, are being stressed to give dollars to the community with the intent of them using that money for “underserved, underprivileged or less advantaged group.”

“Instead of us looking to reinvent the wheel on some of this,” said Holmes. “There’s a possibility we would be able to use these funds and grant some of that out to groups like the Come and Dine Program, the Chamber of Commerce and other groups to do certain things for a lot more outreach than we would probably be able to do.”

“If we’re going to start doing more,” added Holmes. “It’d be good for us to have a better-defined process to do it. A better process for deliberation between council members on what we do and move that way. And also, to make sure we have a good process of showing, if the feds come back and say, ‘why did you give x dollars to…’ then we have some documentation.”  

Council member Theresa Petit asked Holmes how much Aurora would be receiving from the ARPA and Holmes responded that it was $1.3 million.

A drop-dead use by date, the last time the funds can be used, is Dec. 31 of 2022 but Holmes said it was his expectation that, after talking with representatives, that the date will be pushed back.

“My personal perspective is that I would expect that to move somewhere around the end of 2025,” said Holmes.

He stressed that the state hadn’t made any requests for those funds from the government until the complete rules come from the Treasury Department.

One of the things Holmes told council was that the funds could be used for sewer, wastewater and utility issues as well as broadband internet.

Holmes said he had conversations with city engineers and council members about what the city could do with broadband to help the community that would continue in the future.