The City Council has delayed voting on a controversial plan to cancel the city's longstanding law enforcement contract with the Sheriff's Department and hire the Whittier Police Department.
The move was lauded by a group of Santa Fe Springs residents who have begun a petition drive to put the issue to voters, but council members insisted they were not swayed by pressure from the group.
"I simply have some issues I have to clear up," said Councilman Ron Kernes, who suggested the council hold off its decision until April 13. "I want to be dead sure this program is good for the city and its residents."
Santa Fe Springs officials have recommended that the City Council terminate the $4.2-million contract. Officials estimate a switch to Whittier police would save about $500,000 a year, but the figure is disputed by sheriff's officials.
More than 50 residents attended last week's heated council meeting in Santa Fe Springs. Several said they are pleased with the service provided by sheriff's deputies and urged the council to retain the sheriff's department.
The council voted 4-1 to delay the vote.
Councilwoman Betty Wilson dissented. "We've had this in front of us for months," said Wilson, who did not say which option she will support. "I've had time to study this and I know what I want to do."
Proponents of the petition drive need 700 signatures to place a measure on the March, 1997, ballot, but could force a fall special election if they collect 1,200 signatures.
Some council members criticized the petition effort.
"I've never governed by consensus and I don't believe we can," Kernes said. "People are elected to make informed decisions."
Councilman George Minnehan added: "You put this on the ballot, and where does it end? When every little contract comes up, do we have to bring it to the people?"