TAWAS CITY – Tawas City officials have established a committee to explore the options of forming their own police department, should East Tawas choose to part ways with the Tawas Police Authority (TPA).
The decision was made by the Tawas City Council, among other action, when they met on Oct. 19. Continuing the talks from their prior meeting, they held a closed session with attorney Sean Freel.
When the regular meeting started back up, City Manager Annge Horning shared that they had discussed the contract with the TPA and what the course of action should be, if East Tawas opts to go with the Iosco County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO) for policing services. Among the questions posed by Tawas City, was what they should do as far as termination of the TPA contract.
As reported, the department serves those in East Tawas and Tawas City. At the request of East Tawas this August, the ICSO drew up a proposal with cost estimates to provide dedicated police coverage in these two municipalities.
Horning, who is also the TPA Board vice chair/operations director, said she believes Tawas City officials are all in agreement that they should be thinking of a Plan B. “If that’s the reality, and East Tawas decides to walk away from the TPA, we need to decide what we’re going to do with our staff.”
Therefore, she suggested forming a committee to look at the cost and other factors which may be involved, if it gets to that point. “Hopefully we have an answer from East Tawas sooner than later, and we won’t have to meet at all – but we need to be prepared for that.”
“I agree. I think we need to be prepared for that,” said Councilman and TPA Board Member Jon Studley. “And I think we need to not wait to do that, because we have to have our ducks in a row.”
Tawas City has already voted to support the TPA and the contract with East Tawas, to remain committed to keeping the TPA intact and to not pursue a contract with the ICSO. More recently, they gave consensus that they are not in favor of hiring a chief on an interim basis, or bringing on a new chief until the direction being taken by East Tawas is known.
Officials in East Tawas have also been looking into the various options, and are awaiting such details as the feedback from the committee which they established. This group has been evaluating the recommendations in the report from Alexander Weiss Consulting, which assessed the TPA.
East Tawas City Manager and TPA Board Chair, Brent Barringer, has also expressed that the department cannot continue to remain on hold.
Mayor Ken Cook noted that TPA Chief Mark Ferguson – who announced in June that he is resigning – has been extremely generous in his willingness to stay on until a replacement is found.
But Cook said he is concerned, and he wondered how long one’s generosity can go on in this situation. For example, he pointed out that all of these talks have gone on now for months, but things haven’t really gotten anywhere.
Horning added that Ferguson has said from the start that he will be resigning by the end of the year, but ideally some time in the fall.
“Well, not to mention the existing attrition that’s already occurred,” said Councilman Mike Russo, to which the other officials agreed.
Further, Studley said they have asked for East Tawas to make a decision on the TPA and, as of that night, this had yet to happen. So, he moved that Cook form a committee to explore the options if East Tawas walks away from the TPA, and then Tawas City has to create its own department. The motion passed in a 7-0 vote.
In another unanimous decision, Cook moved to appoint Horning and Studley to the committee – given that they are the city’s TPA Board representatives – as well as himself, since he is the alternate. If Ferguson is interested, the motion also called for him to be invited to participate in the committee.
In similar topics, the council received a letter on behalf of The Bay Inn, located in Tawas City, encouraging them to continue to actively pursue maintaining an active local police department.
The correspondence reads that, in their business, they periodically require the support of the police. They state that the police have helped them tremendously in pursuing guests who have either not paid for their hotel rooms or who have caused damage to the rooms, and that the authorities take these complaints serious.
Those from The Bay Inn added that it’s nice to know they have a local police department to make their guests feel safe when staying at the hotel.
In other TPA matters, Ferguson gave an update during the staff reports portion of the meeting. He advised that since former officer Lane Matthews resigned on Oct. 9 (as reported), the department has had to scale back a little bit on coverage.
Ferguson said he was waiting for the next TPA Board meeting, to get confirmation on whether the department can post to fill this position.
He said he knows the Tawas City Council has stated that they are in favor of posting the position, and that he would certainly support this also.
(Since the council last met, the TPA Board did schedule a special meeting for Monday, Oct. 26. The agenda items listed were “Officer Posting” and “Chief Posting.” A summary of what transpired will be provided in next week’s edition).
In separate TPA updates, Ferguson said the department recently received its new patrol vehicle, which is a 2020 Ford Explorer Police Interceptor.
The TPA Board voted previously to list for sale, via online auction, the department’s 2011 Ford Crown Victoria. As of the council meeting, the bids received were just above $2,000, and there were roughly 10 days remaining for the car to be up for sale. Ferguson said the figure is right about where they would hope to be with that car, so it’s moving along.
In other business, council members went over a handful of items involving the pier rehabilitation project, which got underway the week prior at Tawas City Shoreline Park.
Horning said that she, Cook, Russo and Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Gus Oliver met with representatives from Foth Infrastructure & Environment, KS Associates and Great Lakes Dock & Materials, to talk about the project.
The undertaking is currently expected to cost more than $4.7 million, much of which will be covered with grant funding, but the city is still working to see how they possibly drive the price down.
“There are a number of items that we discussed that can be changed to help reduce the cost of the project,” Horning said, noting that one in particular is the handrails that the planning commission and city council initially chose.
Officials viewed photos of the handrail design/material alternatives provided by KS Associates, and they considered a couple of different options. Horning said she would obtain prices on these, and bring the information back to the council for a decision.
Cook noted that another element of the project they are looking at modifying is the bridge component, which he said would hopefully save what sounds like a fairly significant amount of money. “So they’re working on that.”
Horning added that Foth is preparing a change order for council approval at their next meeting, which will address some of the revisions that have already been identified.
As a reminder, the council will not be meeting on Nov. 2 as originally scheduled, due to the demand for the city clerk’s time surrounding the Nov. 3 election. The meeting has been pushed back to 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 9.
Whether they will gather in person or talk virtually, remains to be determined. While officials did get together at Tawas City Hall on Oct. 19, Horning said that over the weekend, the governor signed changes to the Open Meetings Act which would allow them to conduct electronic meetings through the end of the year.
“And she actually approved it retroactively after the Michigan Supreme Court deemed the governor’s orders unconstitutional,” Horning continued. “This legislation that she signed makes all our meetings since then legal. It was retroactive, so we don’t have to worry about anybody challenging any of the action that any public body’s took during that time, to say that we met illegally because the governor’s orders weren’t legal.”
After the end of the year, Horning said there is different criteria which would allow the council to continue meeting electronically. She suggested exploring this as it gets closer, though, since it’s uncertain what the state of COVID-19 will be at that point.
In the meantime, she asked the council to consider their preference for meeting in-person or virtually. She pointed out that they didn’t need to make a decision that night, as there were a few more weeks remaining until their next meeting.
Cook asked officials to consider this, and then communicate their thoughts with Horning.
For further details as the Nov. 9 meeting approaches, visit tawascity.org, or contact staff at city hall by dialing 362-8688.
In separate updates, Horning shared that an employment offer has been extended to Tom Seigo to work with the city’s DPW, and that his first day will be Nov. 1. “Tom is currently on the Tawas City Fire Department and brings a lot of experience with him. We’re excited to add him to our team.”