By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – The City Council approved a $7,500 payment to Schoolcraft College, funded by the police training general fund, to pay for Public Service Officer Ron Jones to attend the police academy.
The agenda item was approved at the March 5 City Council meeting.
Jones is the son-in-law of City Councilwoman Caroline Patts, who recused herself from the vote. The scholarship, which would pay Jones’ tuition while he was on unpaid leave from the city while attending the academy, is being offered with the understanding that Jones wants to serve as a Taylor police officer.
Taylor, like many Downriver communities, has experienced difficulty filling all of its budgeted public safety positions, which requires current staff to work overtime.
Some residents are concerned about Jones’ relationship to a council member.
Resident Carol Moran said she was concerned that $7,500 was being given to Patts’ son-in-law without allowing anyone else to apply for the funds. She also noted that Patts nominated her husband for the council vacancy created when Alex Garza was elected to the state Legislature, a position which the council subsequently filled with Angie Winton.
“This isn’t the friends and family plan,” Moran said.
Council Chairman Tim Woolley said the Police Department has discussed ways to fill its officer vacancies with qualified personnel. He said the Detroit Police Department pays for its cadets to attend police academy and provides them with a stipend while they are attending school.
“This isn’t somebody off the street,” Woolley said. “This is somebody that we have been talking about sending. We send our employees for training all the time, to allow them to do their job better.”
Woolley said, in his opinion, that is what they are offering to do for Jones.
“We have a gentleman who has been here for 17 years,” Woolley said. “I have no problem if this man says he wants to become a police officer, which we are in need of, and a lot of other cities are in need of police officers, because nobody wants to do it anymore.”
Deputy Police Chief Richard Hopper said Jones has been a public service officer for 17 years, is a lifelong Taylor resident and has been with the city for his entire career.
“When we are looking for police officers, it is hard out there,” Hopper said. “We are trying to find somebody who is going to be mature.”
Hopper said he went to then-Police Chief Mary Sclabassi about three years ago to help recruit Jones to become a police officer.
Hopper said attending the police academy is a full-time pursuit, and you cannot work another job while attending.
“He is going to have to forego his paycheck while he is there, and that is an extreme financial difficulty, which is part of the reason he hasn’t attended the academy yet,” Hopper said. “To go four months with no paycheck, and come up with the tuition is a really big burden on a family,” Hopper said.
Hopper said it is a competitive market now to hire qualified police officers, and potential new hires are interviewing with several police departments to see where they can get the best offer.
“We do appreciate the pay increases that you have offered so that we can increase our recruitment,” Hopper said to the council. “But we still aren’t the highest paid.”
Hopper said he has been Jones’ direct supervisor, and he recommended to Police Chief John Blair that they find a way to help Jones become a Taylor police officer.
“He has a proven track record, he’s mature and why not take a chance of somebody who has a proven track record?” Hopper said. “We have had people who have gone through academy and they have not passed. There is going to be a risk with everybody we hire. With Jones, we have a proven track record that lowers that risk.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)