Council member responds to criticism

Bebhinn Egger

FRONT ROYAL – A town leader took heat Monday for comments she made about the police department last week.

Town Council heard from several residents who called on Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger to apologize for her remarks made during council’s May 2 work session. Egger criticized the department at the work session, claiming the agency offered misleading information pertaining to its budget request for fiscal 2017.

Egger apologized after she explained the reasons for some of her remarks that appeared in the local media. Egger also stated that she is not “anti-law enforcement” as some residents claimed by her remarks.

“I want to just go back to basics of our job as a council, when it comes to budget time, is to spend tax money wisely,” Egger said.

Council received “misleading” documents related to the police department’s funding request for fiscal 2017, Egger recalled. Council can’t do its job if it doesn’t have all the facts, she added.

The department’s budget has not been cut in the past 20 years and actually increases each year, Egger said, adding that the agency has grown faster than the town. She noted that data didn’t match some of the information provided to council regarding the investigative division.

“This is why I wanted to bring this up because we were given things that didn’t jibe,” Egger said.

“We’re doing our job as a council and our job as a council is not to be yes men and to approve the budget that’s presented to us just because there’s some hard questions that need to be asked and I’m not up here trying to offend anybody,” Egger said. “It’s hard to get a feel for things when it’s printed in the paper and you don’t know the whole back story … So I will apologize if I offended anybody because that was not my intention.”

Earlier in the meeting, residents criticized Egger for her comments last week. George Cline, whose wife works for the department, said he was appalled by some of the remarks made about the law enforcement agency but didn’t identify the council member. Egger had commented about the presence of several police at a traffic stop and had asked if the officers had anything better to do. But traffic stops come with certain risks, Cline said.

“If you think that you were disrespected by a budget, then you should sit on this side and see how you disrespected the officers that protect and serve you every day,” Cline said, asking if Egger had researched what happened in the traffic stop she referenced.

“I would expect that a public apology is warranted and personally would like to see the particular council member’s resignation no later than (this evening),” Cline added.

R. Wayne Sealock, a retired law-enforcement officer, said he was concerned about the comments made by Egger and published in a local newspaper. Sealock said he felt that Egger is “anti law-enforcement.” Egger’s campaign materials indicated her opposition to the town building a new police department headquarters, Sealock said. As to Egger’s concerns about the department’s budget request, Sealock suggested council discuss the matter in a closed session. Sealock also questioned Egger’s earlier comment that the town is not responsible for keeping its residents safe. Sealock said the town’s charter outlines its responsibility to its residents.

Several of the residents also asked that council consider putting the surveillance cameras back in the gazebo downtown. Arlene Ballou, who runs Brooklyn’s Marketplace, said she’s collected signatures of people who want the cameras reinstalled. Egger and Councilman Bret Hrbek were among the council members who voted to take down the cameras. Egger has pointed out that the cameras don’t prevent crime and have not helped solve cases.

Hugh Henry, a member of the Planning Commission, also called Egger’s comments about the police department disrespectful. The security cameras also are tools that could help police, Henry said.

Hrbek came to Egger’s defense and commented that Egger thoroughly reviews the budget and asks questions. Hrbek noted that Egger sought justification on how many officers need to respond to traffic stops. He noted the substantial increase in the request for overtime pay and Egger asked why the amount was necessary. Council has received data to back up the request, Hrbek said.

Hrbek also explained why he supported the move to take down the cameras. The cameras have not helped police reach convictions in criminal cases, Hrbek said. The councilman said he is willing the revisit the cameras issue.

Councilman John Connolly said the extent to which the cameras help law enforcement remains debatable. Connolly did say he disagreed with Egger’s comment that it’s not the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens.

Mayor Tim Darr commented about Egger’s remarks and the residents’ reaction.

“A lot of times we just gotta keep in mind as council members and as citizens it’s not the questions we ask but a lot of times it’s how we ask them,” Darr said, adding that he didn’t feel the police department was being dishonest. “I felt that we needed to investigate the situation.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com