TAWAS CITY – The May meeting of the Tawas Police Authority (TPA) Board, among other items, featured a discussion on the annual performance evaluation of TPA Chief Mark Ferguson.

He was ranked by board members on a scale of one to four, with one being ineffective; two, needs work; three, effective; and four, very effective.

His overall performance rating was a 2.99, and the individual numbers given by each board member are as follows:

Board Chair and East Tawas City Manager Brent Barringer, 2.8; Board Vice Chair/Operations Director and Tawas City Manager Annge Horning, 3.57; East Tawas Council representative Lisa Bolen, 2.7; and Tawas City Council representative Jon Studley, 2.9.

When asked about the strengths of the police chief as a leader, Horning stated that he is a great communicator and is good at sharing appropriate information with the TPA members.

“He has a tough job balancing the wants, needs, and desires of the TPA Board, the individual cities, and the department but does so diplomatically,” she added.

As for the areas in which Ferguson would most benefit from the additional development of skills or knowledge, Barringer mentioned leadership training, specialized in law enforcement management.

Bolen and Horning also suggested that leadership training would be of benefit.

Board members could provide comments on their overall assessment, as well, to which Barringer said that Ferguson’s natural talents and local connections to the area and its residents are positive assets and areas of strength.

He further noted that managing the expectations of two cities is difficult, and is something that both the board and Ferguson are working to improve.

“What are the visions, goals and plans?” Bolen responded, also commenting on the strengthening of relationships, especially with the Michigan State Police.

“I would like to see Mark and the Board develop measurable goals with deadlines. I think the Board also needs to articulate what is important and what are priorities for the year,” she noted.

Barringer advised that, after the evaluation, he and Horning met with Ferguson to go over the results.

Barringer said the overall learning on his part is that the board needs to be clear on its expectations, as well as the mission and vision of the TPA, so that the chief is aware.

He added that he believes a large factor in Ferguson’s ratings is that it’s more of a perception, and everyone might be thinking differently as far as what the expectations should be. “And, until we make it clear, it’s hard for anyone to meet those expectations.”

He also referenced the TPA assessment which was conducted by Alexander Weiss Consulting.

As reported, the firm was brought in to review the department’s policies, organizational documents and structure, as well as to make recommendations to the TPA chief and board. They were also to review the TPA’s Concept of Operations and Articles of Incorporation, and make recommendations on the structure of the TPA and the roles of the individual board members and staff.

The plan is to have representatives present the evaluation summary in the near future. So, Barringer said he thinks that as part of that process, it will be important for the board to be more definitive in its expectations and make this an action item, so that Ferguson has an opportunity to meet those expectations.

Barringer also suggested making the actual evaluation form an action item, in order to make it more effective.

For example, he said that if he were to only fill in one item and rate it as a one, then his whole  average for the chief’s evaluation would be a one.

Horning said one of the biggest things Barringer hit on is the fact that the TPA Board needs to do some homework also, in order to get Ferguson and the department the support and guidance needed to meet the board’s expectations.

She also referenced the Lexipol policy management system which, as recently reported, the board voted to incorporate as soon as possible. The program  will provide services to support the TPA in implementing, updating and managing policies.

Horning pointed out that the TPA policies were a big concern noted in the Alexander Weiss report, and has also been a concern of the chief’s for quite some time. “So, hopefully getting that resolved will help everything, too.”

Bolen, reiterating comments she made during Ferguson’s evaluation last year, said she doesn’t think that the board has done a good job of telling the chief exactly what they expect of him. “But, at the same time, I think that when you’re in a position like him, much like my own job, sometimes I have to push my leaders to articulate exactly what it is they want from me. So it’s a two-way; it’s not just one way.”

Bolen’s recommendation to Ferguson is to be mindful of that in the coming year – but that the board can also do a better job of giving him more definitive direction.

Ferguson said he appreciates the time and effort that goes into something like this, and that he will keep trying to improve the department.

“Mark, again, I think that we’re lucky to have you as our chief,” Bolen later commented, adding that she recognizes his job is not an easy one.

In similar business, Ferguson advised that the TPA has initiated the agreement with Lexipol and started training on the system in mid-April. “We have uploaded our current policy manual to Lexipol and they are conducting the cross-reference to the new policies.”

He said he has discussed the possibility of having the TPA Board or a representative involved in the approval process before a policy is implemented.

“Article XII of the Articles of Incorporation identifies that the Authority (Board) ‘shall determine matters of policy...,’” he stated. “I would like to get input from the Board as to what involvement they would like to have in this process.”

Ferguson said this was talked about with the Lexipol liaison, as well, who cautioned on such a person having editing abilities. Less is best, as far as how many people have that ability, so they’re not just tweaking words that they think sound a little better, for example.

Ferguson pointed out that this has been put together by lawyers. “And it’s legally defensible, so we don’t want to change much.” However, if there was something glaring, or if the board had issues with a certain policy, then they can inquire about it and have that step before implementation.

He noted, though, that the TPA is probably going to get into at least 100 policies, so this could get pretty weighed down. “We don’t want to hold up the process by having too much review at too many levels.”

Studley said he was of the opinion that either one or two board members need to have access to the policies to review them. “I don’t know that you need to bring it to the board every time, but we need to have the ability to review those so that we know what’s being implemented – being that we’re the board that’s technically approving everything.”

Barringer said he understands the point about not wanting to drag this down but, like Studley said, the board certainly wants to be involved in it and have an opportunity to review policies.

He asked the chief about his preference, to which Ferguson said that, once the first policy or batch of policies is prepared, these could be reviewed at a TPA Board meeting before any implementation. This way, the board can view the format, perhaps become a little familiar with the system, discuss it, see what they’re paying for and so on, then possibly give approval. 

He noted that some of these may be boiler plate type policies which don’t require much review, but there may be others that an appointed person from the board would want to look into further.

“I guess it would be up to you guys,” Ferguson said.

He remarked that what he envisions – once there is a familiarity with the process – is possibly having a person designated that these things will go through, just to have eyes on it so the board is aware of what is being implemented and what the policy book look likes.

Barringer suggested bringing it to the whole board as a first step and, as they walk through the process a bit, they can refine it and make it more efficient if needed.

Ferguson agreed, saying this could be a yearlong process or more, with things added over time. Therefore, he doesn’t believe that they need to set everything in stone at the moment as far as board review for, say, something that may be done six months from now. “So I think we start maybe broad and let you guys see what’s going on, get an idea of what it’s going to look like, and then we can go from there.”

“Is everyone in favor of that?” Barringer asked.

“I think that’s a good idea to start with,” said Studley, with the other board members also in favor of this approach.

In other matters, Barringer brought up the TPA assessment process with Alexander Weiss Consulting, which began nearly a year ago.

He said that, given the coronavirus pandemic, the final evaluation presentation by Weiss has been delayed. “Right now, he is available to present this at our next meeting in June, at our regular time.”

The TPA Board typically meets at Tawas City Hall, with their next gathering set for 8 a.m. on Monday, June 1. They have recently been conducting their meetings online, though, due to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Barringer said that if the board is in agreement with this, he would make contact with Weiss to confirm.

He noted that they promised to give notification to all of the stakeholders who were involved in that process, of when the presentation will take place.

Both he and Bolen said they have been approached by some people who have asked that, since the evaluation is complete, whether the board has made any determinations on an action plan.

“And my response has been, the culmination of this process was going to be Weiss actually presenting and having an opportunity for everyone to respond and ask questions and create some dialogue during that meeting, hopefully,” Barringer said. “And then at the outset of that meeting, the board would reconvene and put together an action plan.”

He asked if this was everyone else’s opinion, as well, to which the board agreed.

He did point out, however, that hosting the presentation in person would be contingent upon any extension of the governor’s executive orders, related to the pandemic and the limitations on certain gatherings.

The TPA Board also discussed the configuration of the meeting room, should attendees have to maintain six feet of distance at the time of the presentation. It was noted that they may have to switch the venue if there happens to be an overwhelming number of people.

Barringer said that, if it was okay with the board, he will also reach out to get feedback on this from Weiss, try to get a definitive answer on the venue/configuration, then work with Horning directly on putting something together. The intent will be to get the notice of the presentation out as soon as possible, to give everyone an opportunity to join.

There were no qualms from the other board members about taking that route.