By DAVID GREEN
Morenci city council’s Public Safety committee continues to discuss the future of the police department following the departure of former chief Larry Weeks.
Committee members have talked about whether they want to seek a new chief or continue with Ryan Hillard serving as the interim sergeant to lead the department.
During a committee meeting Monday, Mayor Bill Foster said that due to the savings realized from Weeks’s departure, the city could have 24-hour police coverage. The cost would vary depending on whether experienced officers were used or if recent academy graduates were hired. The chief position would remain open and perhaps a grant could be obtained for hiring a chief.
“There’s new information about this that I think should be discussed,” said councilor Everett Cool.
Foster said he learned that city administrator/clerk Michael Sessions spoke with police union representative George Truchan about the suspension of Hillard from the union. Truchan—a part-time officer with the Morenci department for several years—explained that the union contract covers patrol officers and does not cover a sergeant position.
Cool said he called Truchan to learn his opinion about Hillard’s appointment.
“He was very, very blunt,” Cool said. “George expressed severe concerns about our choice of interim police chief. He said according to our own guidelines, in his opinion, Ryan is not qualified to be a corporal, a sergeant, or an interim chief or a chief.”
On Tuesday Truchan denied making comments about Hillard’s qualifications and said he hasn’t read all of the qualifications listed by the city.
Truchan said sergeant and other supervisory positions were done away with by city council a few years ago. Council members can promote someone to a sergeant position, but it’s not actually allowed within the contract.
Truchan believes that Hillard’s appointment leaves the City open to a lawsuit from the union members, Cool said, and he urged officers Don Thompson and Ron Borck to take legal action.
“He thought our choice of Ryan over two other experienced possibilities was in his words ‘absolutely ridiculous’,” Cool said.
Truchan said he made no such statement. There’s a question about whether council’s action violates the rights of other officers who may be qualified for the job, Truchan said Tuesday, but he isn’t pushing others to take action.
“We’re not urging anyone to do anything,” Truchan said.
The union’s only position is to follow the regulations that are already in place.
The City’s job description for police chief includes five years of related supervisory experience.
“I’m a little confused,” said councilor Brenda Spiess. “Didn’t we appoint him as interim sergeant?”
“That was my question, too,” council member Jeff Bell said. “Why do we keep referring to him as chief?”
Committee head Rebecca Berger said the five-year requirement only refers to the position of chief.
Cool repeated what he said was Truchan’s opinion that Hillard is not qualified for any position other than patrolman. Truchan, however, says he no opinion on the issue and says it’s simply a matter of the other positions not existing.
Cool said his understanding is that the union could sue because there are two members who are qualified under the City’s guidelines.
Cool said that Truchan also urged Thompson to sue Weeks and possibly the City because of statements made in a letter written by Weeks when he was still employed as chief. Weeks gave reasons why he recommended Hillard over Thompson. Truchan also denied making that statement.
Foster said he wants to learn about the conversation between Truchan and Sessions, who was out of town on city business for Monday’s meeting. Foster said that Sessions should follow the lead of the Public Safety or Finance and Legal committees.
“He’s not a city manager,” Foster said. “Now we’re sitting here not knowing what was said.”
Cool said he asked Truchan to attend the council meeting “because his opinion was so passionate and so inflammatory” and he should express it himself. Bell agreed that Truchan should make his case in person.
Berger recommended that city attorney Fred Lucas review the documents and advise council. Council member Ron Apger said he wants to know Lucas’s view of whether the requirement for four years of service with the department for the sergeant job includes part-time work. Hillard started working for the city in 2008 but has served as a full-time officer since 2012.
PATROL CAR—Interim sergeant Hillard is seeking three bids for the replacement of a police cruiser’s engine and transmission. Foster said he received a bid as low as $5,000 from a dealer in Blissfield.
OFFICER—During the regular meeting, council voted to give Hillard permission to post a job vacancy for a part-time officer.
EMS—During the regular meeting, council approved a request from the Morenci Area EMS to buy two heart monitors at a cost of $41,798 from SOS Technologies. A loan of $26,798 will be taken out.
PUMP—City supervisor Barney Vanderpool reported that the new pump at the water plant produces about 200 gallons more per minute than the old unit.
MEETINGS—Council will continue to meet at 7:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of the month.
Council will meet at 7:30 p.m. next Monday to begin discussing a direction and goals for the city. This was described as giving staff and department heads a clear direction to guide the city.
Spiess said that council welcomes ideas from the public as the group looks five, 10 and 20 years into the future.
INSPECTORS—Dean Newell was retained as electrical inspector at a rate of $35 per inspection plus milage.
Council approved a suggestion by Sessions to allow him to serve as the zoning inspector. Jacob Barnes has served the city in the past. The change is expected to cut about $3,000 from the city budget.
Council will continue to review the contract with building inspector Kevin Arquette and discuss the issue again at the Jan. 26 meeting.
PROPERTY—Council agreed to split the skating rink property from the two parcels of farmland for sale by the Lay Trust. Jay Nieman bought the former rink on Friday, pending council’s approval.
CATS—Cool said he checked with the City of Tecumseh about its policy for handling stray cats. It was decided there that it would be too expensive to capture and store the animals and the idea was abandoned.
Audience member Bev Zuvers said Morenci Veterinary Clinic has a program for spaying and neutering strays, but the property owner must bring the cat to the clinic.
CEMETERY—In response to a question from the audience, Mayor Foster said the Public Works committee will address the issue of leaf collection at Oak Grove Cemetery.
FESTIVAL—Apger urged anyone interested in helping with the Town and Country Festival to attend the monthly meetings.
THANKS—Mayor Foster thanked the fire department, EMS, police department, DPW and citizens for all working together during the recent snowstorms. Other council members praised Vanderpool and his crew for their efforts at keeping roads and parking lots cleared of snow.