By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
RIVERVIEW – Whether city council members should exercise oversight concerns, or defer issues to the city manager became a point of contention at the March 9 city council study session.
Councilman Bill Towle, who often brings up concerns about the oversight of city business decisions at study sessions, was criticized by Councilman Dean Workman, a past city manager, who contends that city employees should be allowed to deal with the city’s business without the interference of city council.
Towle asked at the study session whether both police and fire department issues would continue to be discussed at the same public safety meetings, or whether each department would have separate meetings in the future.
Councilman Chris Norton said his suggestion was to bring police officials into the public safety meetings on an ad hoc, or as-needed basis.
City Manager Doug Drysdale noted that the public safety commission was established for the fire department alone.
City Attorney Randall Pentiuk said no action needs to be taken if police officials are not on the public safety commission agenda.
Towle then said that a similar public safety committee needs to be established for the city’s police department.
“That would require a major problem at the police department,” Mayor Andrew Swift said.
Towle replied that the city has experienced problems with the police department.
“When this originally started, there were issues in reference to manning our police department, too,” Towle said.
Workman replied that the police department is within budget, and contended that manpower issues fall under the responsibility of the city manager.
Towle said, in the past, when the police chief oversaw both police and fire departments, issues for both departments were discussed at the public safety meeting.
“I guess my point is, if you don’t want to have a public safety meeting in reference to the police, there are issues that develop that the council wouldn’t be aware of if we hadn’t had those meetings,” Towle said.
“How many of those ‘problems’ are created, or are actual problems?” Workman replied. “The point is this: Whether I agree with you or I don’t, you are going to have to get three others (city council members) to agree with you that those are problems. You don’t determine if there is a problem there or not. You bring it forward to us, and we determine it.”
Towle brought up the issue that occurred when the police department withdrew from using dispatch services provided by the Trenton Police Department, and elected officials were told it would be more economical to bring dispatch service in-house. He contends that did not prove to be the case.
“Only to find out in January 2019, 18 months later, that they were using command officers as dispatch personnel,” Towle said. “I wasn’t aware that was going on, and I don’t think anybody in the council was, and it only came to light because the committee was raising questions about the excessive amount of overtime.”
Towle said the decision to use police lieutenants instead of civilians in dispatch costs the city money.
Workman said that is not Towle’s issue, but is instead the responsibility of the city manager.
“You are not the city manager,” Workman said. “If we have issues with the way the police department is being managed, that is his job to work with the police chief to do that. I think you are going out of the area of a council member.”
Workman contended that the city manager, and not another public safety committee, should address the issue.
“All of a sudden, we are going to create a committee, and we are going to take the chief, and the deputy chief, and we are going to beat the hell out of them, saying, ‘We want this,’ and, ‘We want that,’” Workman said. “I don’t. I want the chief to run the department. If the chief doesn’t do the job, I want (the city manager) to do something to the chief. Real simple, and you know something? It’s in the charter. That is how it’s done.”
Towle said he agreed with Workman, but council members have an oversight role to fulfill.
Workman replied that the city council’s oversight role is with the police department’s budget.
“Not telling how to run a police department,” Workman said to Towle. “You don’t have the ability to tell someone how to run a police department.”
“We ran the money, and we ran the numbers,” Towle said. “And it came back that it wasn’t economical.”