Washington County intervenes, Forest Lake City Council reverses police decision
Applause abounded as the Forest Lake City Council made two votes May 15 to accept labor agreements for Forest Lake Police Department staff and to rescind its acceptance of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office proposal for contract law enforcement in the city. The new labor agreements last through 2019, effectively ending the months-long discussion on whether or not the city would disband the FLPD in favor of contracting for services through the county.
The votes at the special May 15 meeting came after a dramatic series of events in the prior week, kicked off by 3-2 council decision on May 8 to accept the WCSO proposal and disband the FLPD by this fall. Leading up to the vote, many Forest Lake residents had mounted an organized public movement to keep the department in place, and the backlash to the May 8 decision was immediate and vociferous: As the meeting adjourned, a packed house at the council chambers erupted, with some weeping, others chanting and still others hurling threats of harm at the “yes” voters Mayor Ben Winnick and Councilmen Ed Eigner and Michael Freer (read more about that meeting in the May 11 story “Council accepts sheriff’s proposal”).
Following up on the cries of “Not over yet” at the May 8 meeting, many local protesters organized to stop the council action at the next level: Washington County. Several residents attended a May 9 Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting to speak against the contract, while many more blanketed commissioners with phone calls and emails – more than 900 to Fran Miron alone, according to the District 1 commissioner.
“I’m trying to listen and absorb the attitude of the community toward this issue,” Miron told The Times, adding that he hoped his constituents would understand him not having the time to respond to each piece of correspondence individually.
Also on May 9, hundreds of local junior high and high school students from multiple local schools participated in an afternoon walk-out, converging on the grounds of the Forest Lake City Center to protest the council’s decision. The quickly-organized event gained statewide and ultimately national attention, and the morning of May 10, Councilwoman Mara Bain and one of the walk-out’s organizers, Clara Olson (who earned local accolades in anti-proposal circles in a May 1 open forum speech to the council), appeared on the Fox and Friends national morning show to speak against the recent vote.