Oran council backs police chief, may launch a PR campaign

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Business group had complained that chief's enforcement was hurting commerce.

ORAN, Mo. -- The eight members of the Oran City Council gave unequivocal support for Police Chief Marc Tragesser Monday night. Now the city government plans to launch a public relations campaign to dispel rumors surrounding Tragesser's law enforcement approach.

The special meeting was called as a follow up to a meeting last Tuesday. In that meeting representatives of the Oran Better Business Association came to the council with its grievances, saying the chief's enforcement of the law has a negative impact on local businesses.

Since Tragesser started as chief last summer Oran citizens have debated his merits. Tragesser's approach to law enforcement has been more aggressive than his predecessor, Howard Stevens, who rarely issued citations. Some in Oran vocally said the change was too severe and sudden, while others who fully support Tragesser and call themselves the "silent majority" welcomed increased law enforcement.

Both the mayor and the city council came down in favor of the latter.

"This board asked him to enforce the law, and that's what he's been doing," said Mayor Tom Urhahn. Urhahn added that Tragesser has passed his new-employee probationary period and can't be fired except in the case of wrongdoing.

The comments brought applause from citizens watching the meeting.

The Business Betterment Association has asked the council to reconsider police department leadership and work more closely with business owners to promote business.

No council members even discussed firing Tragesser at the meeting, and some questions the Business Betterment Association's claim that the chief had hurt business.

Council member Leroy Eftink said he thought economic factors, like rising prices for gas and building materials, probably helped contribute more to the business slump than Tragesser.

"We've had business slumps before," said Eftink. "Everything is cyclical."

Urhahn proposed holding a meeting between the Business Betterment Association and the local chamber of commerce to discuss ideas to increase business. Other council members agreed.

Urhahn also proposed mailing a town newsletter to dispel rumors about Tragesser's enforcement.

Council member Harold Landewee said the loss of business was brought on by some townspeople who started rumors and complained about the chief early on -- not Tragesser himself.

When people get tickets, Landewee said they should "Pay it, keep your mouth shut and keep bragging on Oran."

Several council members said the minority of residents who have complained have given the town a bad image in the media. Those same council members said they've received praise for Tragesser from citizens of their wards.

Tragesser presented the results of 52 surveys the police department had issued residents about its job performance. Only two surveys included negative comments, and four people refused to participate, Tragesser said.

The department plans to continue the surveys, then do them on a biannual basis to improve community relations by obtaining citizen feedback, Tragesser said.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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