The City Council on Monday night approved a settlement with three female police officers that pays them a total of $135,000 and allows for changes to the department's personnel policies. Two of the officers will be offered jobs as detectives, while the third officer has retired.
All 11 council members voted for the settlement but said little during the meeting, as both sides intend to release a joint statement today. City Administrator Tina Volek said the Police Department welcomes an independent consultant's review of department policies, and Chief Rich St. John said much has already changed since the gender discrimination complaints were filed with the state Human Rights Bureau.
"There have been significant changes since 2005, and there haven't been any complaints," St. John said.
The department has 12 female officers, including Sandra Leonard and Gaye Gauthier, two of the officers involved in the settlement. The third officer, Rebecca Hagen, has retired.
The three officers claimed that they were discriminated against when five less-qualified men were chosen as background investigators. As part of the settlement, the three women will help select a consultant for the policy review. The department is obligated to accept any changes recommended by the consultant.
"I'm glad it's finally been resolved," said Mayor Ron Tussing, the police chief from 1998 to 2005. "From personal experience, it's very difficult to win a case against the Human Rights Bureau."
In other business, the council came close to denying a zone change for 64 acres at the intersection of Rimrock Road and 54th Street West. The applicant, William Krutzfeldt, wanted to build a mixture of single- and multi-family homes on the land, along with some commercial property.
About 30 nearby residents came to oppose the plan, and many spoke of how the high-density development would affect their choice to live in a more rural setting. Another 180 people signed a petition against the development.
The council seemed ready to deny the zone change, then allowed the developer to withdraw the request so that he could reshape and resubmit the plan in four months. Denying the zone change would have meant a wait of one year.
Councilman Mark Astle suggested to the neighbors that they try to work with the developer, because higher-density developments will eventually come their way.
"You've got to get over that notion right now," he said. "I grew up in the 500 block of Parkhill, and there were horses across the street."
The council also approved a loan to the Interfaith Hospitality Network to buy and renovate two duplexes at 1427 Avenue C. The organization will use the money, most of which is federal, to provide transitional housing for homeless families.
The council also voted to expand the boundaries of the North 27th Street and South Billings Boulevard tax increment finance districts.
Before the meeting began, Larry Brewster was sworn in as a replacement council member for Ward 2. He replaced Joy Stevens, who resigned in October to move to Wyoming.