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Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Chief Hunt and City Commission's Search for for a modern day Rumpelstiltskin.

Job interviews, court trials, first dates, and the seventh game of play off series are quirky things that were it not for the anticipated reward offered, would be avoided like the plague.Four fine candidates presented themselves  as the final four  in the selection process for a new Public Safety Director. Each brought special skill sets and attributes. What commission found most attractive was the modern day ability to spin straw into Gold.

You know the Story. The Brothers Grimm penned it, If not  allow us to refresh the details. A Miller brags to the King that his daughter is so clever she can spin straw into gold. The  king demands proof and the maiden is locked  in a room with straw and a spinning wheel.As luck would have it she is befriended by a curious visitor with an unlikely name who really can spin straw into gold.. In exchange for a trinkets he helps her out. 

Unfortunately that only whets the King's appetite for more and the girl moves to bigger and bigger and bigger rooms of straw to be spun into gold. Eventually the King hits her with a monster order. If she fulfills it he will marry her and make her queen.Sad but true the girl is now out trinkets to pay off her accomplice. So he asks for her first born if she becomes queen, and he reminds her that such an event may never happen. She agrees and when the event does occur  she despairs. In the spirit of generosity however her friendly gold spinner offers an out. If she can guess his name he will cancel the debt.

Fairy tale critics and financial advisors have observed  that Rumpelstiltskin and similar fables  follows a predictable pattern of greed,more greed, and still more greed until an apocalyptic end occurs.

The first candidate to be interviewed was Bruce Smith a Consultant to the Chesterfield Township Police Department and former Public Safety Director of Oak Park. He offered the City courage and said " Chief " was where the buck stopped, and tough decisions where made. Commissioner Zambricki asked for an example and Smith cited having to lay people off. Later Commissioner Stuart Sherr told Downtown Birmingham Magazine that he believed that,"Smith was better fit for the community (than  eventual hire David Hendrickson) "I am not saying anything against David Hendrickson and now that he is chosen I will absolutely support him. "

Commission Sherr is five months into the job a job he was appointed to,  has yet to work up the nerve to vote against his fellow commissioners  On the budget although he did not approve of the deficit he voted with everyone else in a unanimous decision. On matter of the Public Safety Director he dissented, abstained or ducked a chance to cast a vote for the man he believed would be best fit. So much for courage.

If that sounds harsh  I suppose it is. The saying goes there is nothing  worse than a reformed drunk. In the not so distant past I was told by one wiser than me that I was put on a board to make decisions not to equivocate  or "abstain."

Public Safety Director  candidate and acting Chief Terry McDonnell  offered the City Commission  plain speaking, familiarity with the community,  and a job well done. He offered no simple answers or platitudes. In Warren Michigan that approach might have played better than it did before the City Commission of Bloomfield Hills who prefered to be dazzled.

 He talked about Police force as semi military organization which it is and the chain of command. That chain of command starts with the people  of the City, then City Commission, then the City Manager, Public Safety Director and so forth and so on.

The commission  seemed  oblivious to this fact when grilling McDonnell on past indiscretions of the department.and the 2010  "save our dispatch from out sourcing campaign" some public safety officers  participated in. 

"Your name was there," Commissioner Pat Hardy said to McDonnell who agreed it was. He said was standing for fellow officers. What was not said or possibly remembered by either  was the fact that at the time  (prior to the 2010  City election)  while the Mayor, City Manager, and others discussed outsourcing with the Township, the only information the public had came from Public Safety. Had the City Commission or the Mayor been more forthright or consulted  with  public input the whole matter might have passed without incident.

In regards to the current outsourcing "exploration" McDonnell said he believed that the people who the bills (tax paying residents) should make the decisions. That kind of directness would have  produced  supportive snickers  in Warren a working person's lunch pail (or perhaps a lunch bag or  Subway  coupons) community of 135,000. Here people tend to be more trusting and less skeptical. 

The Commission did pay McDonnell the compliment of asking what his salary expectations were. He said they weren't particularly high. When pressed he said something to the effect of a "a smidge more money but not a lot" which is  the perfect patois for the City of Bloomfield Hills where talking about actual dollar amounts is considered extremely gauche. When that prompted blank looks on the face of the commissioners, McDonnell added he wasn't going to take a pay cut to be the chief.
 Again  ironic bluntness would have brought down the house in Warren but here it  went over the heads of our commissioners who seem to be very money conscience of late.

The third candidate to be interviewed was Canton Deputy Chief Bruce Kerr, a quiet thoughtful man who gave quiet thoughtful answers. Unfortunately the interview processes now in it'beginning it's third hour was losing a bit in thoughtfulness. One commissioner who was either appointed to be or just took the opportunity  to serve as
 the devil's advocate rattled off a list of presumably who's who in Canton and demanded "what would these people say about you ?".  That afforded Mr. Kerr the perfect squelch of the evening with "most of the names you mentioned wouldn't say anything because they are no longer there." The ones who were he presumed  would be most favorable.

On the subject of mentoring Kerr was  strong stating that he was proud to have mentored the current Chief. The DA did not like this and said, that mentored got the top job over the mentor. That did not concern the thoughtful Kerr who said  it fit with how long he wanted to stay in Canton and the commitments he wanted to make at that point in his career.

It has been said that our City Commission in it's quests  for answers looks for ones that agree with what they already think.  In that sense Warren Police Captain David Hendrickson was just what the Doctor ordered. A 26 year veteran of the Warren Police Department (the second largest department in the state. Warren is the Third largest city in the state.), Hendrickson is by far and away the best candidate on paper. Hiring him is quite a coup for a city of 3800. He is intelligent, articulate, and talented in a number of areas like dealing with unions,  City commissions  and a department of 236 police offices.

What is not to like ? Well there is still our City Commission and  it's desire to save money at all cost. Most of Captain Hendrickson's interview was spent talking not about Public Safety but about how the City could save money in the Department of Public Safety.

That is what the Commission wanted to hear  and that is what Candidate Hendrickson provided them. Nor was  David Hendrickson shy on self superlatives. That is the smart thing to do if you want the job. Of all the Candidates he was the best prepared.It was obvious he had done his home work.When asked if he liked the shift hours now in place  for Public Safety Officer Henrickson said something to the effect of not as rule but conceded they seemed to be working for us.

Recently  our City Commission slashed $300,000 of Police and Fire "nice to haves" from the 2013-14 budget to reduce the starting deficit from a negative $400,000 deficit to a mere $100,000 in the minus column. Among the items cut was a squad car and an  extraction devise know was the "Jaws of Life." We are told that in a recent traffic accident the police had to use a sawzall which is a less than a $100 power tool sold at Home Depot  to free an injured passenger. We are also told that the police lack entry devices and managed to get to an injured man in his home when a relative was found who knew where an external hide a key was kept.

During his interview process Hendrickson  impressed the commission  with his self described ability to write grants for necessary equipment like squad cars. 

One grey area that emerged  was that Hendricken had done some police work for private residents in with City Officer Noel Clawson. The Commissioner who raised the point asked if Hendrickson as Chief would see activity as a conflict of interest, Hendrickson said he would and such activities as would cease as Chief. 

What is interesting  is the fact that our city commission and our  Public Safety Department knew of  such moonlighting but did not oppose it which prompts another question. 

Why not ?

It would seem to be  a conflict of interest for any off  duty City of Bloomfield Hills Police Officer  to accept hire by a private citizen  thus implying that the Police Officer is acting an a  representative of City law enforcement  when in fact he is serving another master.

Through out the interview process of  prior candidates the accreditation of certain regulating boards and bodies was mentioned and discussed. Candidate Henrickson  dismissed them  by saying, "for one they cost money" He also thought  they are nor all that important. 

Captain Hendricson  is also a police officer as opposed to public safety officer meaning he is not trained in fire or EMS.  Henderson however pointed out that many communities in state are going to police run public Safety Departments.

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