TAWAS CITY – Along with the impending resignation of the Tawas Police Authority (TPA) Chief, officer Lane Matthews worked his last day with the department on Oct. 9. Options for filling these positions were among the topics discussed at the Oct. 5 Tawas City Council meeting.

Tawas City Mayor Ken Cook, a TPA Board alternate, advised that the chief hiring process was on the board’s agenda as an unfinished business item. So, he and Tawas City Manager Annge Horning – the TPA Board vice chair and operations director – were to come back to the council for feedback on how they wish to proceed.

For the hiring of a new chief, there were essentially two options considered at the board level. One was to follow the TPA’s concept of operations, which would involve the sergeant filling this role. Another was to possibly update the job posting as an interim position, and not a permanent one.

Cook sat in on the meeting for Tawas City Councilman Jon Studley, who could not attend due to work commitment. He said he felt that an interim chief position was less than ideal – and potentially borders a bit on the unethical side – considering that someone would go through the interview process and all the other steps, then relocate to the area only to face the possibility that they may not receive perpetual employment.

Related to this, Cook said that with Matthews’ resignation, talks were also had at the TPA Board meeting about posting for the hiring of a new officer. “And again, I got concerned about that and the lack of commitment on East Tawas’s part to continue the TPA at this point. And if they want to contract or do another alternative that they might be thinking of, are we real comfortable with that?”

Therefore, he said the board representatives for Tawas City need direction from the council on what their feelings are on continuing with that hiring process, so that this can be shared with the board at their next meeting.

Studley said he does not want to move forward with hiring a chief if they can’t give the candidate security of what the TPA is going to look like – if the department is even still in existence.

“In regards to the officer route, I don’t know that I want to hire a full-time officer; maybe two part-time officers to help with coverage – knowing that, again, we don’t know where we’re at TPA-wise,” he said. “But it would provide us the ability to have coverage that we had, up until this Friday when we lose our officer,” he noted at the time.

“I don’t think there’s any merit in trying to hire an interim chief,” agreed Mayor Pro Tem Brian McMurray. “I don’t think that that person would have the ability to do what they need to do with that title of interim chief.”

He said it wouldn’t be fair to the new hire, nor to the TPA and the communities served by the department.

McMurray shared that he believes Tawas City still needs to be running a joint police force with East Tawas, and that they certainly have to somehow figure out how to fill the officer vacancy.

Sharing similar sentiments that Horning made at the board meeting, was Councilwoman Jackie Masich. She said that her concern with an interim chief versus a permanent position, is whether they are still going to have the best candidates interested in the job.

“Or are we going to get into a situation where they drop out, we hire an interim chief and then East Tawas decides to stay with the TPA? And do you then go hire another chief?” she questioned, when there is an opportunity to offer them a permanent position. “It just makes it messy.”

“I don’t know that any of us have the time to go through the hiring of a chief twice, any time in the near future,” Horning remarked, to which Masich agreed.

Councilman Mike Russo also expressed that he wouldn’t want to entertain any discussions about hiring on an interim basis.

McMurray said he thinks it would be really helpful if there were a stronger direction – and sooner, rather than later – on where East Tawas wants to head with the overall TPA situation.

For the TPA representatives who attend the next board meeting, Cook sought clarification that the message will be that the council is not inclined to move forward on the hiring of a chief, until the direction East Tawas is taking is known. As far as the officer, the thought is to continue to move forward and be progressive with that. 

“Is that a basic summary?” he asked, which officials confirmed.

Cook advised that the assessment of the TPA, by Alexander Weiss Consulting, also continues to be on the board’s agenda.

He reminded officials that when the two city councils held a joint meeting in August, the intent was to analyze the various suggestions in the report; but they didn’t get into this much at the time. He said that some of the suggestions entail creating a mission statement, and possibly doing some amendments to the TPA operating agreement and by-laws.

Cook also mentioned past conversations on the potential of hiring a third-party contractor to facilitate some of this, so that those involved aren’t sitting in a meeting for hours, trying to come up with ideas.

According to the council’s Aug. 3 meeting minutes, the TPA Board discussed the desire to have a joint council meeting that month to go over the Weiss report and develop a mission, vision and strategic plan for the TPA. Talks were also had on the possibility of hiring Dovetail Solutions as a consultant to facilitate the process. The consensus of Tawas City at that time, was to not discuss hiring a consultant until after the joint meeting.

Cook asked if the council could pursue the option with Dovetail Solutions, so that this may be offered at a future TPA meeting, which Horning affirmed.

“And how does the board feel about that? Are you willing to support your share of that kind of cost, whether it comes from us or from the TPA?” Cook asked.

“I think that makes sense,” said McMurray.

“I would support that,” Russo echoed.

Cook suggested that rather than continue to wait for East Tawas, perhaps Tawas City could encourage them to enter into such an agreement, if they want to see the TPA work – which is what Tawas City is in favor of.

Horning said she can draft something to this effect, which she will provide to the city officials and the TPA Board.

Studley wondered if the council could share their feelings with East Tawas sooner, as opposed to waiting until the next TPA Board meeting in November. “Because what’s going to happen is, we’re going to bring that up at the next TPA meeting; they’re going to say they’re going to have to think about it, talk about it; and, next thing you know, it’s going to be two months down the road.”

He added that if they receive something from Dovetail Solutions, he would also like this to be shared with East Tawas as soon as possible, in hopes that maybe they can actually move on something at the upcoming board meeting.

Horning pointed out that the next TPA meeting is Nov. 2; however, the board intends to set a special meeting in the next week or so, regarding changes to the TPA pension plan. Therefore, as long as she is able to get a proposal from Dovetail Solutions, it can be introduced at that point.

“But, considering our next regular meeting is the day before the election, I do not anticipate East Tawas to make a decision,” she said, adding that she thinks they will push it until after the election, once they know what’s going on with the new sheriff. “Because by then, the county will know if their millage has passed, as well. So, Jon, I don’t think we’ll have a decision until December, anyway.”

In other business, Horning told the council that their next meeting is also set for Monday, Nov. 2. Anticipating that this is going to be a very busy election, she said the city clerk has requested that they consider moving the meeting. “We already have a lot more absentee ballots out than we typically do, plus we have a write-in candidate to deal with this time. So, we would just like to free up her time the evening before, if possible.”

The motion by McMurray to bump the Nov. 2 meeting back a week, to 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 9, passed unanimously.

In separate matters, officials entered into closed session for more than an hour and 45 minutes, to go over two different items with attorney Sean Freel. One was to hear an update on the demolition of the building at 545 W. Lake St. (US-23), which previously operated as Tawas Bay Family Practice.

As reported, the city purchased both this and the adjacent structure, the former Tawas Bar, each of which will be razed in the near future. The properties will then be restored and available to the public, and will serve as an extension of Tawas City Shoreline Park/Town Square.

Horning later said that Consumers Energy was to disconnect the power to the former doctor’s office that Friday, meaning it can be demolished right afterwards.

As for the second topic, “We will be going in to closed session with Attorney Freel to discuss proposed contractual language,” Horning stated in her background memo for the meeting.

When officials started their regular meeting back up, no action was taken on either of the items.

In other business, Horning gave some project updates, including the latest details on the pier rehabilitation effort at Shoreline Park.

She, Cook, Russo and Department of Public Works Director Gus Oliver were to meet later that week with representatives of Foth Infrastructure & Environment; KS Associates; and Great Lakes Dock & Materials; to discuss potential alternatives for the pier project.

As reported, this is being done in an effort to try to reduce the more than $4.7 million price tag.