Everyone loves a parade, as the saying goes. However, some don’t like to work a parade for free.
The annual Memorial Day Parade is turning into a game of political football between the Perkins Township Police Department and township trustees.
The trustees want Perkins police officers to volunteer to work the parade. The Perkins cops, many who feel they are being disrespected by the trustees over staffing issues and budget constraints, are balking.
Not one Perkins Township police officer has volunteered to work the annual Memorial Day Parade, Police Chief Tim McClung said.
In past years, the township cops directed traffic for the event and also marched in the parade.
Since the middle of March, the trustees and McClung have talked periodically about staffing the parade. McClung’s response has been consistent: He said he would have to pay the officers who work and that would cost him about $1,700 out of his overtime budget — money he says he just doesn’t have. By early April, McClung said he’d already spent about 35 percent of his $50,000 overtime budget.
The trustees in recent weeks have brainstormed with the chief trying to find ways to save the township money. They’ve asked McClung to look into having two officers on the road per shift and other cost-cutting measures. Officers are being overworked because of limited staffing, McClung said, and it would be difficult for him to justify shelling out $1,700 in overtime to staff a parade in light of the trustees asking him to cut in other ways.
Trustees’ chairman Bill Dwelle said the trustees will make sure there is a police presence at the event.
“The board will decide how we are going to handle this, but the Perkins Police Department will be involved” in the parade, Dwelle said. “It’s getting to the point we’ll have to issue orders.”
Members of the township fire department have volunteered to help out with the event, which involves the shutdown of U.S. 250 from the Ohio Veterans Home to the Oakland Cemetery. The Eric County Sheriff’s department will also provide support, Sheriff’s Capt. Paul Sigsworth said, but those deputies will be paid for their time.
Paying the police to work may be the township’s only choice, Dwelle said.
“That’s probably what we are going to have to do, but they are going to be there and be a part of it,” Dwelle said.
Trustee Jeff Ferrell said he would not oppose paying officers for their help.
“If they want to be paid then we’ll pay the amount of people we need to pay to make sure the parade goes off,” Ferrell said.
If the trustees order police officers to work the parade, officers will have no choice but to do so, McClung said.
However, the chief said the trustees would be treading on delicate ground if they mandate police officers work the parade.
“If they got ordered I don’t think they’d have a choice. But actually the only way they could order them in would be to declare an emergency,” McClung said. “So I think there would be some contractual issues there.”
There is also a question of whether the police department has even been contacted by the Sandusky Memorial Day Association to work this year’s event. Jim Dee, a parade organizer, said letters have been sent to the Perkins police informing them of organizational meetings, but no police have shown up.
“I can tell you for a fact the letters were mailed to the Perkins police department,” Dee said.
McClung said he’s received no correspondence about the event, nor has Sgt. Dan McLaughlin, who for the past seven years has acted as a liaison between the police department and the parade organizers.
“We have not received any information about the committee meetings or if we are able to enter into the parade itself,” McLaughlin said.
In prior parades, McLauglin said, one of his roles has been to keep local businesses along the parade route informed of what time the parade would go off and other information. The department has also included youngsters from its DARE program in the parade, he said, and even had officers march in the event, which draws between 3,000 and 6,000 onlookers and is scheduled for May 26.
Politics may be behind the lack of Perkins police volunteering to work the parade, McLaughlin said.
“There is friction and that,” McLaughlin said. “But when it comes down to our community our guys are really committed to the community and I don’t think that would be a concern. There is some politics being played and it’s shame that it’s entered into this function itself.”
And just because no officers have volunteered at this point doesn’t mean they will not eventually, McLauglin said.
“I’m sure they are having to check with their spouses and other family members for availability. They don’t want to sign up and then not show up,” McLauglin said.