Helper council directs public safety department to address issues, rejoin drug task force
The Helper City Council gave direction to the town's department of public safety last week to resolve the failures of the county wide drug task force and attempt to rejoin.
The Jan. 18 vote by the members of the Helper council stemmed from conversations in December regarding whether the city was legally a part of the Carbon Metro Drug Task Force.
Mayor Mike Dalpiaz announced last fall that the city would be withdrawing from the drug task force.
With support of Helper Police Chief George Zamantakis, the mayor notified other members of the task force of his decision in August.
Last month, the city council questioned whether the mayor was authorized to take that action without council approval.
An opinion by city attorney Gene Strate last week clarified that the question of the mayor's authority to withdraw is irrelevant to the situation.
"My opinion is that [the contract] is not valid for a number of reasons," said Strate. He explained that both Utah law and the city's municipal code require that each signature on an interlocal agreement be attested by the county clerk or city recorder of each agency participating in the interlocal agreement.
Strate reported to the council that the contract was signed by a county commissioner, the county sheriff and the mayor and police chief of each city in early 2000, when the contract would have gone into effect.
However, there are no signatures attesting the signatures by the commissioner, sheriff, mayors or police chiefs.
Strate reported that the contract in Helper's records is lacking the attesting signatures. He added that the county clerk's office does not have a copy of the contract.
In a copy of the contract obtained from Price city's police department, the Sun Advocate learned that Price's copy of the contract is lacking attesting signatures as well.
Second, the Helper attorney explained that, since there is a budget item associated with the drug task force, Utah law requires approval by the city council.
Strate indicated that he was unable to find any approval by the council.
"My guess is that the other cities didn't do that, either," said the Helper attorney.
A third concern raised by Strate is that the interlocal agreement states that the cities and county entered into the contract "pursuant to authorizing resolutions of their respective governing bodies."
"I don't see that was ever done," he said.
Finally, interlocal agreements must be reviews by county attorneys. While the law doesn't require attorneys to sign interlocal agreements, Strate said he was unable to find a record stating the contract had been reviewed by attorneys.
"I think we're at the point where the contract is invalid," summarized the city attorney.
Given the legal opinion that contract is not valid, the question of the mayor's authority to terminate the contract is not relevant to Helper's involvement or lack of involvement in the drug task force.
After receiving legal counsel on the matter, Helper's city council addressed whether or not the city should be a participant in the drug task force.
The mayor said he supports efforts to arrest and prosecute drug offenders. However, he said he felt that Helper was not getting the kind of results it should from the drug task force.
"We have more drug arrests in our city per capita. Not that we have more drugs, we just aggressively go after them," said Dalpiaz.
The mayor said that the other cities and county do a good job in prosecuting drugs.
"But the drug task force as we know it is broke," said Dalpiaz. "Those guys work their tail off. They work their tail off on a broken wheel. And it's not getting anywhere."
The mayor added that the drug task force worked well when it started, and for many years functioned well. The mayor offered a broad overview of some of the items he thought were lacking in the task force. Zamantakis said he would prefer to address specific items in closed meetings.
Dalpiaz said the drug task force is not as active as it should be within the city, resulting in Helper taking on more of the responsibilities within the city.
At a previous meeting, Price Mayor Joe Piccolo said the drug task force was created to support local agencies.
However, the interlocal agreement creating the task force states that the task force was "created as a separate legal and administrative entity for the purpose of investigation, indemnification, arrest, prosecution and conviction of narcotics users and dealers."
Zamantakis said that the city council needed to address the question of how to fix problems within the drug task force and how to be a part of it.
"With fixes, I think it can be run properly and be productive," said the police chief.
He said the debate on whether the mayor had the authority to withdraw was not helping to solve any of the task force's problems.
"I see this as a time that all entities review this and fix those broken things you're talking about." said Councilmember Chuck Buchanan. He added that it may be proper to address some of the task force's failings with specific provisions in the next contract.
"I find it interesting that we don't have a contract and I think that actually works to our advantage in the long run," added Councilmember Dean Armstrong.
The council passed a motion recommending that the department of public safety address specific concerns with the drug task force and make steps to correcting those problems.
If a resolution to those issues can be found, the council will support rejoining the task force.
"We will back you every step of the way," Armstrong told Zamantakis.