2017-09-07 / News

Waiting game

City seeking answers in dispute over fire chief
BY LANIA ROCHA
810-452-2652 • lrocha@mihomepaper.com

SWARTZ CREEK – With Fire Chief Brent Cole’s career hanging in the balance, some residents and city leaders are wondering how the city will respond if the fire board votes to relieve the chief of his duties.

The Swartz Creek Area Fire Department serves the City of Swartz Creek and Clayton Township. The city council and township board each appoint three representatives to the fire board. The municipalities take turns, on alternate years, appointing a fourth delegate.

The township currently has the swing vote.

On the issue of the chief, the fire board is divided along municipal lines.

At the August fire board meeting, a couple of last-minute additions to the agenda, including a motion for Cole’s dismissal, caught some board members by surprise.

The board ultimately tabled the matter, with plans to revisit it at the Sept. 18 meeting.

City delegates – Councilman Curt Porath, Rick Clolinger and John Knickerbocker – say they oppose the push to fire Cole.

Township spokesmen – William Tucker, Ken Engel, township Trustee Tammy Kapraun and Ted Henry – aren’t saying much about it at this point.

Meanwhile, city officials are scratching their heads, unsure why the township wants to remove Cole from office.

“This is unfortunate,” Councilwoman Rae Lynn Hicks said at the Monday, Aug. 28, city council meeting. “I wish we knew what was wrong, what happened.”

Hicks said Cole’s performance evaluations indicated no egregious infractions.

“I can’t understand this,” she said. “It’s bizarre. And we have no way to counteract this.”

City Manager Adam Zettel said it would take a simple majority vote of both the city council and township board of trustees to overturn a fire board decision.

Hicks also asked about the process for dissolving the shared service agreement with the township.

Severing the arrangement is complicated, said Zettel. The process likely would take more than a year.

City officials also are curious about who would lead the fire department.

The fire board can appoint an interim chief, said Zettel, but the city council and township board both must approve a permanent replacement.

“I don’t know where this will go,” said Porath. “I don’t know how the public will react.”

Despite the unanswered questions and uncertainty, some remain optimistic that an amicable solution will be found.

“Hopefully we can settle this in a way that works for both communities,” said Mayor David Krueger.

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