TAWAS CITY – The Tawas Police Authority (TPA) board, at its monthly meeting in April, took action on a policy management proposal from Lexipol, LLC, based in Frisco, Texas.

In a unanimous vote, the board authorized TPA Chief Mark Ferguson to sign the agreement with Lexipol, and to incorporate the program as soon as possible.

Ferguson had previously presented the board with information on Lexipol, as well as another company, which provides services that would support the TPA in updating and managing policies. 

As recently reported, Alexander Weiss Consulting completed an assessment of the TPA’s policies, organizational documents, structure and more. Following the evaluation, representatives pointed to the TPA’s policies as an area which needs to be addressed.

Therefore, it was during the latest meeting when Ferguson included in the TPA draft budget the costs for Lexipol in fiscal year (FY) 2019-20 and 2020-21.

“At the last regular meeting the sentiment was that we would initiate this program as soon as possible. So, the proposal you have in this packet is prorated for this FY which includes the one-time cross-reference fee and then the normal annual fee for next FY,” he stated in his administrative report.

He added that, when comparing the Lexipol services to another program, he thinks that the automated training, updating of policies and recording of employee training records are some of the key differences which make Lexipol the best choice.

According to the proposal, the system is designed to save clients time and money, while protecting their personnel. Lexipol’s team of public safety lawyers and policy experts continually monitor national and Michigan-specific policy changes. They then use these updates to help provide the content and training the department needs to minimize risk and effectively serve its community.

Also offered is online access to the agency’s policies through a web-based platform and mobile app.

“Agencies that use our policy service have clear, effective policy manuals that reflect the true values and philosophy of their agency,” the document reads. “Proven benefits of using the Lexipol system include reduced risk and cost associated with litigation, reduced time spent developing and maintaining policy, and an increased ability to focus resources on other agency priorities.”

Ferguson advised that the proposal prorates the program from May to June, and then starts back up July 1 to accommodate the TPA moving forward sooner, rather than later.

TPA Chair and East Tawas City Manager Brent Barringer noted that the draft budget designates $2,800 for this program in the current FY, and $4,400 for the next FY. Moving forward, he asked whether $7,200 per year would be the norm.

Ferguson said no, and that a one-time cross-reference fee of $2,070 makes up a bulk of the cost in the first year, and is part of the prorated part in this FY budget. The $4,400 amount is what would be expected annually.

He added that the TPA could cancel the program in a year, as well. They would lose a lot of the online access, the updating, the training mechanism and so on, but the TPA could keep those policies.

Board member and East Tawas Councilwoman Lisa Bolen asked Ferguson how he envisions rolling this out.

He said he would follow Lexipol’s program for the most part and, in talking with them, it’s very key that the cross-reference be utilized.

He said there are about 150 policies available in the company’s initial book. “We’re currently at 50-something.” So, the parties would go through and match up what they have. “There’s probably some of ours that combine several of theirs, or vice versa.”

Bolen asked whether this would be phased in, adding that she thinks the program is very much needed.

Realizing that this is a big piece to bite off, she said that if she were in Ferguson’s shoes, she envisions that she would probably need to have a phased plan for implementation and making those fit for TPA.

Ferguson answered yes to the phased-in approach, saying that he doesn’t think the program can be developed until the TPA actually sits down with those from Lexipol to do the cross-reference.

He said he’s sure that Lexipol has somewhat of a better idea of a schedule that it typically would take, especially based off of department size, which is also what determined the price quote in the company’s proposal. In other words, Ferguson would anticipate a schedule from Lexipol that, from doing this with other departments, they feel is reasonable. The TPA would then try to adhere to that as best as they could.

He said he also expects the TPA doing a lot of work initiating it, by getting the policies written or at least formatted to the department. They would then train on these and, once that is accomplished, the policies would be implemented. “So that would be part of the process. Whether it would be one day we’re still under our existing policies and the next day we switch over, or, when we find that we can eliminate this existing policy and switch to this one policy through Lexipol, I would take some recommendation from them on how that would work.”

In the section of the proposal regarding the standard policy cross-reference, the company states the following:

Making the transition to Lexipol starts with understanding how your agency’s current policy content compares with Lexipol’s master policy content. Our Standard Policy Cross-Reference service provides a logical method to distinguishing between the two.

• Analysis of your existing policies and procedures to identify content similar to Lexipol’s state specific master content, as well as content unique to your jurisdiction and not covered within the Lexipol manual.

• Your existing policies returned with annotations and tips to integrate into the Lexipol master content.

• One-on-one review with your agency to discuss the cross-reference report.

“I think this was a major item that came up in our evaluation process, and this certainly is a beneficial tool for the department,” Barringer remarked, adding that it sounds like adequate study has been done to look at the different options, and that this is the best choice for the TPA’s situation.

Given the present coronavirus issues, he asked how this fits into the matter at hand, and if the board wouldn’t need to cut Lexipol a check for the roughly $2,800 until they’re ready to schedule this.

Ferguson said if the board approves moving ahead with the  program, and it is then determined that the May time frame isn’t going to work, they won’t be paying for something they’re not utilizing. “If they don’t think they’re able to do things in May because of the current pandemic, then I would ask that that gets adjusted. And if we end up in June and it gets implemented in July, we’re not paying for something we’re not getting.”

Barringer initially made a motion to approve moving forward with Lexipol, based on getting the budget approved for FY 2020-21 that incorporates this line item.

But Annge Horning – TPA board vice chair/operations director and Tawas City manager – noted that the authority’s budget isn’t going to be approved until some time in May or June. “Do you want to wait that long?”

Barringer questioned this being hidden in the budget approval, pointing to the idea that the board would be adding that total amount to the budget each year. “That’s a financial decision that’s beyond what our current budget is,” he said.

“Actually, it’s not. I mean, it’s a financial decision that you’ve got the money in your current budget to be able to pay for it. And your current budget ends at the end of June,” said Ferguson. “So, currently you have the money to pay for it right now. You don’t have the money to pay for anything after June 30.”

Barringer said yes but, from a timing standpoint, he asked whether this holds things up. He noted that this would be an additional $5,000 a year line item, in perpetuity. “So, is there an issue with making sure that that’s viable on both sides, from a budget standpoint?”

“I understand what you’re saying and why you’re saying that,” Horning answered. However, she said her concern is that if the board wants to move on this as soon as possible, and it’s contingent upon approval of the budget, it is still going to be a couple months out. 

She said she thinks what Barringer was trying to get at is that they approve this, however, there’s no guarantee it’s going to be in the budget every year. “Is that kind of what you’re getting at? Next year we might have to cancel because we don’t have it in the budget?”

Barringer said that was true and he thinks at this point – when they’re looking at it as part of the agenda, to make a recommendation for the budget – he presumes it’s going to the respective city councils at their upcoming meetings and that the TPA board is going to know the councils’ take on this very quickly. “And probably quicker than when they’re [Lexipol] going to be able to come on site and begin implementation anyway. So, it just makes sense for due process, I would think.”

TPA board member and Tawas City Councilman Jon Studley said he thinks they need to just go ahead with the Lexipol process, and the board will address the issue in the budget and have it approved that way.

He added that the board has this program as a priority, and that they need to leave it a priority and move this forward, to which the other members agreed.

Horning added that it was a recommendation from the consultants that this, or something like it, be implemented. “I just think the sooner, the better.”

She moved to authorize the chief to sign the agreement with Lexipol, and incorporate it as soon as possible. Also called for in the motion is that the amount will be covered from reserves, if it’s not included in the budget approval.