Havre council unanimously OKs new police chief


Many Hi-Line residents are taking off for the warmer climate of Arizona to avoid the winter, but Kirk Fitch has got it all backward.

Fitch not only left Arizona to visit Havre for a meet-and-greet held by city officials last Monday night, but after the council approved his appointment as the new chief of police, he will be moving here, in December.

The appointment was approved unanimously by the council members Monday night. He will be sworn in at the next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

The vote came after a few questions to Fitch from council member Gerry Veis, who was unable to make last week's meeting.

Veis wanted to know what the new chief thought about 12-hour shifts. After Fitch told Veis about his experience and success with that system in his previous posts, Veis told him he didn't like it because he thought the long hours could compromise an officer's decision-making ability.

When asked by Veis about his future with the department, Fitch said he couldn't say now how long he anticipated staying in Havre. He would have to get into the position and learn more about the procedures and issues he will face.

Fitch did say that he would want to make sure any officer in the department is able to take advantage of whatever educational and training opportunities they wanted, to build and strengthen the department's internal structure.

After the meeting, council member Andrew Brekke said he was very impressed by Fitch at the meet-and-greet held Monday of last week.

"He is very experienced and knowledgeable, " Brekke said. "This guy is certainly open. He answers questions. If he doesn't know the answer, he'll say and I appreciate that.

"We are very lucky to have someone with his experience come to Havre. "

Some people who have heard of the appointment have been concerned by his title in Maricopa, mistaking the name of the city for the name of the county to the northwest of the city that has received national attention for its controversial sheriff, Joe Arpaio and his strict immigration enforcement, which the U. S. Department of Justice thinks may be unconstitutional.

Arpaio has also been criticized for harsh treatment of inmates and bias against Latino prionsers.

Brekke said he asked Fitch if the media's portrayal of Arpaio has been accurate. Fitch said he thought it was.

That was one of the things that impressed council member Cal Long, as well as Fitch's work in helping build a new police department from the ground up in Maricopa.

"I'd like to see what he can do with that here, " Long said. "I think any time he spends here will be good. "

Council member-elect Bonnie Parenteau watched the appointment Monday and said afterward that she hopes he can bring some new technology to the department, "getting us to the new millenium. "

The only concern came from Brekke who said he wished the process of picking the chief had been a bit more transparent, rather than months of silence ended with a sudden "meet-and- greet" one week before the approval vote.

The meet-and-greet itself was questionable, as it seems no one but the council and other city employees were notified.

Montana's open meetings laws say that 48-hours notice must be made of any meeting where "the convening of a quorum of the constituent membership of a public agency or association described in 2-3-203, whether corporal or by means of electronic equipment, to hear, discuss, or act upon a matter over which the agency has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power. "

Solomon said that more than half of the council did attend the meet-and-greet, that it was just an informal, almost social, opportunity for the council members to talk to the candidate they were about to vote on. He said the council was not discussing city business.


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