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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Saving Public Safety Dispatch, Mayor Sarah McClure, and the Story of the year 2013. Part IV.

Prologue: "Dispatch" in the context of the Department of Public Safety, is what happens when you dial 911 and who you talk to.

The importance of local Public Safety Dispatch may be obvious to reader who has benefited from such emergency help dispatched quickly. However to a municipal governments faced with the rising costs and enticed  by the panacea of shared services, the perspective is different. Cheaper is better when all you are taking about is answering a phone call and making another. Right ?

Past: In  May 2010, The City it seemed, was well on it's way to outsourcing Public Safety Dispatch.
 Mayor Kellet,  City Manager Jay Cravens, Public Safety in Director Matott and select commissioners were then negotiations with the then supervisor of  Bloomfield Township, David Payne.

Details of those meetings were being leaked to the press.    According to one City observer  the source of the leaks was rather obvious

The weekend prior to the 2010  May  City election the Public Safety Department distributed hand bills stating that the City had not been honest with the public and was very close to

outsourcing Public Safety Dispatch.

The city denied that and said the matter was simply exploratory. To that end  City Manager Jay Cravens  invited  the Township's David Payne to speak on the benefits of sharing Dispatch services at  the next  City Commission meeting. That meeting  was the first of a new administration  headed by a new Mayor, Michael McCready.
Eventually Public participation at a series of Public hearings saved Public Safety Dispatch in the City of Bloomfield Hills. At least until May of  2013. 

Time Bomb: Issues in the City of Bloomfield Hills resolved once, are not dead and buried. Instead they lie dormant  awaiting the possibility of an eventual  resurrection from those who for a variety of reasons,  seek a different City. That is why it pays to pay attention. The alternative may be a City you bought into decades ago may not the City of your future. 
City Matters: To help you enhance your powers of perception, on May 3rd, Downtown Birmingham Bloomfield Magazine published an article  titled "Who is minding our municipalities." The article was based on interviews  with  Our City Manager Jay Cravens, Birmingham City Manager Bob Bruner, and Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savioe. The article  also references to a  35 page study,  Michigan Local Government Structure, Services and Practices which is available on line. Published in 2002 it is of interest to those fascinated  by  the minutia  of Municipal  governments in its many forms and functions.  We disagree with the City model Downtown Magazine selected for the City of Bloomfield Hills. We also disagree with the premise  that in our City the Mayor's main function is to chair meetings. Based on of many years  observation we believe our  Mayor determines the role to be played by the City Manager. Power is as power does in the City of Bloomfield Hills. That power is determined by three commission votes.  The Mayor by virtue of being elected Mayor  starts with those three votes.   In our  quirky city the City Manager in the has over the years played  a number of roles. As recently as 2004 the City Manager and City Clerk were one and the same which is not the text book definition. At other times our  City Manager is has been a City Commissioner. To get the text book definitions and compare our City's reality to the Civic models presented please read 
"City Managers, City Matters post which follows.
 Road to May 14th  

Timing is everything, or so they say. The three City managers got together for a photo for the Downtown Magazine article. Maybe they had  lunch together. Maybe that prompted a thought. The Township was looking to hire two dispatchers. The City of Bloomfield had three with one being mainly administrative. Suppose the Township and City combined both units to serve both communities. Suppose  the Township gave the City an special introductory rate. One the City  couldn't say no to. That would be a win win for all concerned wouldn't it ?. Cravens concurred. Besides part of his job as gate keeper was to take offers to City Commission.

There was just one problem which would arise later after the initial euphoria wore off. What Leo Savoie said was absolute.  He ruled and is perhaps the most important and influential person in the B communities. The Township he supervises has 40,000 residents. Twice the size of Birmingham. More ten times the size of  our city. The City of Troy is bigger with 70,000 and West Bloomfield Township has sixty thousand but in both the larger communities, at City Hall, in the heat of debate, chairs have been known to fly. Not so in Bloomfield Township.

Townships have three full time elected positions meaning they pay  enough to be a full time job. The position of Supervisor which is one of them combines the our office of mayor and City Manager. The other elected full time positions are that of City Clerk and City Treasurer. In addition there are 4 other positions roughly akin to our Commissioners and called Trustees.  That makes a seven person Township Board. In 2012 In Bloomfield Township  all seven positions came up for re-election and all  incumbents ran unopposed. In the Bloomfield Hills School Board Election of that year,  almost  every candidate sought Leo Savoie's endorsement and Leo provided it to almost all. When the Lieutenant Governor was in the area for a "develop new local business" initiative, Leo Savoie was at the table. After a grueling and expensive campaign newly elected state representative Michael McCready invited Leo Savoie to be his guest at the The Governor's State of the State address  in Lansing. Monthes later Savoie proposed a Township debt reduction plan involving close to 100 million dollars, Township  residents if desired, could have held a referendum to affirm or scuttle the plan. The residents with all due respect to the democratic process and their Supervisor, declined a referendum

The only organization that could approach the Supervisor in stature is the Township's United Home Owners Association who's countless home owner organizations and domiciles make it powerful. In the past the UHOA and  Supervisor Savoie have met to clarify points with former walking away satisfied.

In it's 82 year  history the City of Bloomfield Hills no person has approached the power of Leo Savoie.  Even if they had the innate ability win friends and influence people they found that the power of 3500 no matter how well healed, residents  is not the power of 40,000.

It isn't personal. It's votes. 

The Overture
At the very  moment  when  City Manager  Cravens was preparing to put Leo Savoie's proposal forward unbeknownst to anyone only one thing stood in way of the two communities settling on a single Dispatch Unit. That was City of Bloomfield Hills Mayor Sarah McClure.

If protocol was observed City Manager Cravens was the first to discover this. Having some knowledge of the of the participants and the events, we can not imagine,that City Manager Cravens would move without consulting the Mayor. Most likely, when informed our Mayor said what she would say  at the City commission meeting on May 14th.  That it was the wrong issue at the wrong time for the  City. In a week or so the City might very well be hiring a new Police Chief who should be part of the decision. Mr. Cravens might have said  that he felt strongly that issue should be brought before the commission soon as possible. He would  memo the commissioner . Dul and  Sheer had expressed an interest and an exploratory fact finding committee might be in order

If Mayor McClure had a comment or a reply, History has yet to 
say and memoirs have yet to record it. 

Something pithy would do the trick. Like asking the City Manager if he knew what the tallest building  in Moscow was. The Manager perhaps caught off guard, might  have said no, he had no idea.  The answer is Lubyanka  Prison because they say that even from the basement of Lubyanka you can see Siberia. That rendering of a  sardonic Russian joke (possibly real) comes from the script of  the ABC  spy versus spy mini-series Assets.  Consult your local listings for time and channel.

It is however doubtful that the Mayor said anything of the sort. In fact when dust began to clear she told  this  publication that she was glad  that City Manager Cravens was showing some initiative. In October  when City Manager Cravens had his  annual or semi annual  evaluation he opened the doors  to the public and the press. This publication attended. The were few if any criticisms. A couple of commissioners however  said they felt funny marking everything top notch. So for the sake of validity, they thought they should say Jay should  show more initiative.

That prompts one to wonder why the City's commissioners, the elected representatives  of the people, don't show more initiative.

May 14th

The day would begin and end with the Mayor, the City manager, and the City commissioners totally in the dark about the sentiments  of City residents  on the subject of out sourcing Public Safety .

For whatever reason it didn't seem to matter. In the end it was that lack of knowledge that would doom Leo Savoie's overture.

The residents  this writer talked to many of whom lives in Commissioner Pat Hardy's neighborhood  were opposed and said so. In other neighborhoods more than a few were resigned to "shared services" if that's what it took to keep the City solvent. When asked, The Mayor said  that was not what it took and paying for dispatch was the a tiny portion of the City' budget.

At the City Commission  meeting Commissioner Hardy was  in favor the outsourcing initiative because she liked and respected  Supervisor Savoie.  He promised to return  our dispatch unit exactly as it was before if we didn't like like what happened during the special offer trial period.  While many superlatives have been applied to the township supervisor  this was first that put him on par with the Easter Bunny.

Commissioners Dul and Scherr were eager to start exploring. It would be an adventure. Much was promised. All services would be maintained but at a lower cost. All public Safety Dispatch options  far and wide including the Oakland County Sheriffs  which serves many cities would be explored.

Commissioner Zambricki did  not participate. There were two Public Safety matters to be decided on Agenda of  May 14th meeting. One concerned outsourcing of dispatch and the other concerned the hiring of a police dog.   Of note is that outsourcing of Dispatch was  first item  on the Agenda. The dog hire was last. The Mayor sets the agenda The meeting lasted 80 minutes. Zambricki  did not arrive in time for the outsourcing discussion or vote  but did arrive in time to persuade fellow commissioners  to wait on the K9 the new Chief was hired. The Vote was 3 to 2 with McClure, Sheer, and Zambricki, voting to wait. Hardy and Dull dissenting.
Zambricki a six time mayor knows that Agenda items can be moved to allow for circumstances. He received his Agenda Packet (which as the name applies includes an Agenda for the upcoming meeting indicating the order of items for the May 14th meeting) the weekend  before.  The Packet also  containing Supervisor  Savoie's offer and City Manager Cravens memo to the commission. It is also believed that Commissioner Zambricki was well acquainted with  with  Mayor McClure.

The published minutes of the meeting indicate that the vote on exploring outsourcing was Hardy, Dul, and Scherr in favor, Mayor McClure opposed and Zambricki absent.  Actually Zambricki just late.

The Tour
A week later City Commission wasting no time, picked David Hendrickson  the third Highest officer in the state's third largest city as it's new Chief. Before he was able to complete his first week on the job he was dispatched, no pun intended, with  City Manager Cravens, Commissioners Dull and Sherr to explore outsourcing options.

The first stop,Birmingham was most gracious and cleared a half day for their presentation. City Manager  Bruner  quite candidly said would a real coup to nail down a shared services agreement on dispatch. He said that when he took the Birmingham job in 2010, the City was thinking of outsourcing dispatch to the Township.  In the end they decided against it however and instead took on a smaller "B" community as a dispatch partner.

The Township meeting was tougher. Supervisor Savoie believed he put a very good offer on the table and was not in the habit of having to repeat himself.  Commissioner Sherr  was stressing max cost savings. Savoie was understanding but only to a point. If the City believed they got a better offer from Birmingham they should take it, Savoie advised because a better offer from the Township would not be forthcoming. The last item was implied but not stated. Sherr  was not quick to pick up on that and pursued the topic. It was sort of a "show me the money" versus  
"Money ? I'll show you the door." stand off. Again all implied but not stated as befitting adults practicing the civility of  governments where Protocol  is paramount. 

In May of last year Commissioner Dul had one year's experience as a City Commissioner. Sherr had about 6 months. Leo Savoir probably knew that. It was his job to know things. Time in grade did not make them the  City's A team which while not intended as a slight, might might be seen as such. Protocol is funny that way. 

Our Chief, true his position of newness said very little. The few questions he asked were usually about numbers. Presumably they involved mental calculations in terms of staff and hours in a day. The other Police officers in attendance took note. They knew Hendrickson  by reputation .A crime fighter who climbed the department ladder  in the state's third largest city. Cops know Cops. The TV tells us so.

The end. 
For now.
In the end, it ended as it quickly as it began. City Manager Cravens  was working on a letter to be sent to all residents.  The point of the letter was to establish what the City had yet to determine. Namely what did residents feel about the out sourcing dispatch.

Determining the public point of view was not a major consideration  of The McClure administration unless of course the public happened share the Mayor's. In this case that  would be maintaining the values of the old City of Bloomfield Hills. The ones that  led to the City's founding in the first place  in 1932. Namely self determination.

Whether that was what that the public wanted or whether they would be willing to let Leo do it was unknown but it was time to find out.  There were no other options. The rest of City  Commission fueled by what seemed to be personal ambition, misplaced loyalty, and indifference had deserted  the Mayor.

 In a editorial  titled Consolidation an important consideration, that seemed seemed to be written more for the rogue City Commissioners than  readers in the community, Downtown  Magazine wrote, "It is up to leaders to lead. Whether hired into the position, or elected into one, It is important to be more than a parrot of a communities opinions. Sometimes it means being the person to lead your fellow citizens along a the the superior path. In Bloomfield Hills that time is now." 

In George Orwell's 1984 Big Brother always knew best even  if the people didn't. History was continually being re-written to meet current needs.  Today one European country  having eliminated branches of its government  intended to maintain checks and balances, rewrites its constitution frequently to suit its  current ambitions. 

In this discussion  there are two key words. Leaders and the people. Sarah McClure, although she would deny it  was leading a rear guard action that would not win a war but might have very well  saved City dispatch

At the  May 14th meeting  when pressed by members of the public  (which was unheard of in the normally autocratic meetings of Mayor McClure) City Manager Cravens promised full openness and public involvement before any final decisions  were made.  That was how this reporter was able to attend the sub committee meetings meetings.  In the end City Manager Jay Cravens remained true to his word  through out the process.

Before any decision was made The City would send all residents a letter. The letter  would explain that City had been thinking of out sourcing Public Safety Dispatch and was now seeking the opinion of residents either in writing or at a public hearing or both.

As fast as our City chose to acknowledge it a true leader was emerging . That would the new  Chief  of Police David Henderson.  He would lead  the outsourcing committee and eventually the whole commission through all the scenarios of outsourcing and  balancing, money savings, resident services  and  control. What did the City want to control ? Its own destiny. 

Henderson was eminently qualified to do so having among other things, run a thirty person dispatch unit for one the State's largest cities.

The letter to residents would not be finished

At the last meeting  with the Township,still without two dispatchers, Savoie  had extended the City's deadline of  acceptance through the fourth of July. That date had passed.

Supervisor Savoie  then decided to hire two dispatchers on their own choosing.

Cravens a family man , said he pursued the outsourcing option only because the Township  would have  hired two of the City's employees who  he regarded as part of his "at work family". The issue was officially dead. For now.

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