The Keene City Council has voted to establish a new part-time position within the police department to fulfill added duties associated with the city’s new social host ordinance.
The ordinance, which aims to hold hosts of rowdy parties accountable for unruly behavior, goes into effect at the end of December. The person who fills the new position will handle administrative tasks related to the ordinance — such as tracking fines and contacting landlords when penalties are issued to their tenants.
The City Council unanimously passed the ordinance on Nov. 5.
During its meeting Thursday, the council approved three items allowing the city to establish and fund half the cost of the new position, and to accept funding for the other half from Keene State College. The city worked closely with the college while developing the ordinance, as students who live off campus are among those holding parties that get out of hand.
“It’s an administrative position that will be doing all of the follow-up,” City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said. “Follow-up with the landlords, follow-up with the property owners, follow-up with the school, follow-up with the student ... that’s been a key piece that has been missing.”
Dragon said the hope is to have someone employed by Jan. 1, or even a bit sooner, but it all depends on how recruitment goes.
The position will be established through an amendment to the municipal services agreement between the city and the college. It will be handled through a temporary employment agreement, which will allow the city to assess how necessary the position is later on.
The total cost to fund the position until the municipal services agreement expires on June 30 is $15,000, with the city and the school contributing $7,500 each. The agreement was set to expire this year, but was extended for one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The person who is hired would work 20 hours a week at an anticipated hourly rate of $28.52.
Only Councilor Janis Manwaring voted against all three items related to the new position. She said that while she supports the social host ordinance, she isn’t sure the city needs to create a new job to perform the associated duties.
“I just don’t think that person is necessary,” she said. “I would prefer that we try it for the rest of the spring semester and see if that person is really needed before we pay this extra money.”
Councilor Philip Jones noted that the city modeled its ordinance after a similar law in Texas, which also added a part-time position to deal with the administrative work, and it’s working well there. Jones said now is actually a great time to test out the new position, adding that any changes can be made when the municipal services agreement comes back up for discussion in the summer.
Councilor Terry Clark voted no to the amendment to the agreement and to transferring funds from the city’s marketing and development budget to its police personnel budget to cover the position. All other councilors, aside from Gladys Johnsen, who was absent, voted in favor of all three items, which were unanimously recommended by the council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee.
The ordinance allows the city to issue fines against both the hosts of parties and even partygoers who refuse to comply with an order from police. The penalty for the first violation of the ordinance is a $300 fine for hosts and guests. For hosts, fines can escalate for subsequent unruly parties that occur within a year of the first fine.