EAST TAWAS – The selection process to bring on a new Tawas Police Authority (TPA) Chief has been postponed, and three of the 14 individuals vying for this title have withdrawn their applications.

The initial thought was for the TPA Board to narrow down the candidates at their special meeting on Sept. 4, and potentially schedule the interviews for Sept. 11.

However, Tawas City Councilman and TPA Board Member Jon Studley said he felt at the time that they needed to find out where East Tawas stood, in regards to the proposal to contract for police services through the Iosco County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO).

“So, I just asked that we delay going through that process until we get some more answers from them,” he shared at the Sept. 8 Tawas City Council meeting.

As reported, the ICSO was asked to draw up cost estimates for providing dedicated police coverage in East Tawas and Tawas City. Multiple meetings have been held in the last few weeks to discuss this possibility. It was during a special meeting of the Tawas City Council when they voted 5-1 to not pursue a contract with the ICSO. They then took action, in a 6-0 vote, to support the TPA and the contract with East Tawas, and for Tawas City to remain committed to keeping the entity intact.

Following Studley’s announcement on Sept. 8, this publication sought further details from East Tawas City Manager and TPA Board Chair, Brent Barringer.

When asked if the board had any idea as to when they might gather to start narrowing down the candidates for the chief position, he said that the selection process has been postponed until both cities are ready to proceed.

He was also asked whether the East Tawas City Council took any action at their regular meeting on Sept. 8, regarding a potential contract with the ICSO.

“No action was taken other than to appoint a committee to evaluate the recommendations presented in the Weiss Report,” Barringer stated.

He was referencing the report from Alexander Weiss Consulting, which conducted an assessment this past year of the TPA operations, policies and other such items. The firm came back with some recommendations and advised that it will be important to consider whether to continue funding a department at current personnel levels, increase the size of the agency or provide services with alternative models. Contracting with the sheriff’s department or utilizing a public safety department model were the examples cited as possible alternatives. They also offered suggestions, should the TPA structure remain as is.

According to Iosco County News-Herald Reporter Tim Hissong, the committee formed by East Tawas will be charged with evaluating the three options outlined above. The group is comprised of Barringer, Councilwoman and TPA Board Member Lisa Bolen, Mayor Bruce Bolen and Fire Chief Bill Deckett, who will report back to the council at their next meeting.

Based on the minutes of the Sept. 4 special TPA Board meeting, Barringer contacted Oscoda Township Police Department Chief Mark David and Iosco County Prosecuting Attorney James Bacarella, to bring them up to date on East Tawas’s request of the ICSO to provide a proposal for contracted police coverage.

David and Bacarella are among those who were chosen to serve on the interview panel which will be utilized in the selection process for the new chief. The panel also consists of Barringer, Studley, Lisa Bolen, Tawas City Mayor Ken Cook, Tawas City Mayor Pro Tem Brian McMurray and East Tawas Councilwoman Blinda Baker.

The minutes also read that the hiring committee was instructed to rate each candidate’s application, as well as their videos. They were asked to submit a five-minute video introducing themselves, sharing why they are interested in making a career in the Tawas area and listing the qualities and experiences they have in administration and leadership which would positively impact the TPA.

Discussion was also held on how to move forward with the candidate selection; if the committee should proceed with choosing the candidates to move to the interview process; postponing the selection until after the East Tawas City Council makes a decision on the ICSO proposal; compiling questions to start preparing for the interview session; developing a scale to rate the candidates; and how to respond to the applicants. The consensus of the board was to postpone the police chief candidate selection and to reschedule the meeting after East Tawas makes a decision on the ICSO proposal.

It has been noted more than once during the various meetings on this topic that, whatever may end up happening, those who have applied for the role of police chief need to be kept informed of the overall situation. Several meeting participants have also expressed concerns that the unknowns surrounding a contract with the ICSO – which would result in the dissolution of the TPA – may drive away some of the candidates.

Cook reiterated this at the most recent TPA Board meeting, which was held on Monday, and he pointed out that some of the applicants – who have also sat in on the prior meetings – had joined the online board meeting that day.

Rather than wait for their Sept. 8 meeting, he said Tawas City conducted a special meeting on Sept. 3, in an effort to see the hiring process move forward.

Cook added that Tawas City is very concerned about the events causing a stall in the chief hiring process, and probably even more concerned now about the morale issues this has caused the existing TPA staff and the stress it has brought to their families.

He said he would be sending a letter that same day to Bruce Bolen and East Tawas officials, asking them to complete their due diligence on the options for police protection and to make a decision regarding their commitment to the TPA.

Barringer said that East Tawas’s newly appointed committee has already met twice and has been reviewing the recommendations within the Weiss evaluation – and they are committed to doing this as expeditiously as possible.

Lisa Bolen also noted that East Tawas has done a lot of work so far and that this process, on their end, continues to move.

She said she believes that they sympathize with the uncertain and unsettled feeling that the staff probably have right now, considering that things are somewhat hanging in the balance. But she emphasized that this is a very big decision to make, and it isn’t one that can be necessarily arrived at as quickly as the council would like. There are a lot of moving parts that go into this decision, but  East Tawas understands the sense of urgency at hand.

Studley asked if anything had been communicated to the TPA officers, and whether they were given a chance to voice any concerns they may have, especially with the stress of not knowing where things stand at this point.

TPA Chief Mark Ferguson – who plans to resign by the end of the year – advised that this has occurred, and that Barringer requested a meeting with the staff last Wednesday.

Councilwoman Jackie Masich sat in on behalf of Tawas City, as well, and Barringer provided an update to the TPA.

Ferguson said that the group had some very open discussions, he felt it was extremely helpful for the staff and he appreciated the opportunity to have the meeting.

Barringer said he thinks it’s important to continue this open line of communication and transparency, and knowing that this is all being done for the future benefit of the police enforcement program.

The deadline to apply for the chief position was Aug. 20, and most of the 14 hopefuls who replied are from communities all throughout Michigan – this includes one respondent from East Tawas and one from Hale.

Tawas City Deputy Clerk/Treasurer Nicole Jakobi, who also serves as TPA Board Clerk, reached out to the applicants on Sept. 8. She sent an update letter on behalf of the board, along with a final copy of the Weiss report.

“Within the last two weeks, both Tawas City and East Tawas have been exploring this option as stewards of the public’s funds. We hope to have clear direction from both soon and recognize that the timing of this inquiry is not ideal,” the letter reads in part. “As inconvenient as this might currently be, we have temporarily postponed the selection process to give both cities an opportunity to fully explore options identified in the evaluation.”