Mail Tribune

Mail Tribune

GOLD HILL — The witching hour for Gold Hill is fast approaching, says Police Chief Dean Muchow, who will lose his job Saturday when his department closes.

"When the clock strikes midnight on Saturday, the patrol cars will turn into pumpkins, so to speak," said Muchow. "Then it's goodbye and good luck."

Also losing their jobs will be Sgt. Hank Hobart and a few unpaid reserve officers.

During his 30-month tenure, Muchow has garnered support from several staunch allies.

He also has faced allegations of misconduct and mismanagement from members of the council and the community.

The City Council unanimously voted May 30 to disband the department after Gold Hill's insurance provider threatened to drop the city's liability coverage unless the police department was shut down.

Mayor Dan Morris said the city is searching for alternatives to police coverage, including contracting with neighboring communities or the sheriff's department.

"I'm not sure what we're going to do," said Morris. "The council will have to make a decision."

Muchow was sworn into service in December 2004. He was the city's fourth police chief in the past four years.

"I knew the history of Gold Hill coming into it," said Muchow. "I don't think I've ever been lied to or lied about so much in my whole life. But as a cop, that doesn't come as a surprise."

Councilwoman Judi Holdeman, one of Muchow's supporters, had nothing but praise for the outgoing chief.

"I think (Muchow) is a wonderful person and he's done a great job," said Holdeman. "They've never proven he's done anything wrong and I don't believe he's ever done anything wrong."

Muchow hopes to stay in the Rogue Valley.

However, he does not have any job offers or firm plans for the future at this time, he said.

"My career statement may have just gone from, 'You're under arrest,' to 'Do you want fries with that?' " Muchow said with a laugh.

Muchow was much less sanguine about what he called the council's "kill shot" in a thinly veiled parable he wrote for a local publication. In his editorial, Muchow likened police detractors to "terrorists" and took swipes at the council for pressing the insurance company's "panic button."

The "insurance company had sided with the 'wolves' and began to attack the police directly," Muchow wrote. "The city turned on its police department and terminated its existence, saying it was pure economics. Economics for the insurance company but how about for the people in this city?"

Dismissing complaints about the department's lack of responsiveness as "totally without merit," Muchow cited preventing and solving crime at the top of its accomplishments.

"Collaring bank robbery suspects and rapists," Muchow said. "We've got a pretty good track record on that."

Councilman Gus Wolf, who has been a frequent critic of Muchow, said mismanagement of the department has caused its extinction.

"I don't want to kick the guy when he's down," said Wolf. "I think he gave it his best shot, but I think the financial mismanagement was the worst thing for me. I, and many others, are looking forward to negotiating a public safety contract with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department. I think that's the best option for stability for the city."

Councilwoman Jan Fish said Gold Hill faced economic destruction and disincorporation unless it disbanded the police department.

"The community will be better served contracting with the sheriff's," said Fish. "Small towns are notorious for having political differences and small-town police departments reflect the division within the cities."

In the city's 2007-2008 budget, public safety revenue is listed at $113,500. However, Holdeman said the city only has $61,279 available for public safety materials and services. The remainder of the money is allocated for insurance costs, police department payroll expenses and debt repayment, she said.

"That doesn't leave us very much," said Holdeman. "Who is going to give us protection for that small amount of money? No one."

Holdeman voiced concerns about life without a police department.

"It's going to be pretty scary around here when the kids take over and the drunks are back down on the beach," Holdeman said. "Who doesn't want police? People who are criminals. I think it's a tragedy for this town. One more tragedy on top of the rest."

Sheriff Mike Winters said his department has been contacted by Gold Hill. He is currently researching options for coverage, he said. Without a contract, the department will only respond to emergencies within the city. County residents who live outside the incorporated area receive additional patrol and other services.

"In the interim, we do our best to ensure the safety of the citizens of Gold Hill," said Winters.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.