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December 11, 2018 10:13 pm

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Douglas City Manager Under Fire For Trying To Kill State Grant For Saugatuck

In what many Saugatuck residents and others are calling an extreme case of “sour grapes” and “unprofessional, childish actions”, Douglas City Manager Bill LeFevere recently sent a letter to a state government agency trying to kill an in-process grant request by the City of Saugatuck that resulted in the state awarding $160,000 to purchase needed police vehicles.

LeFevere’s actions come after Saugatuck officials formally ended its inter-governmental agreement for shared police services with Douglas and instead has joined with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department to provide Saugatuck residents those needed services.

As a result, Douglas is now forced to cut its police staff, deal with a severely reduced police services’ budget, figure out what to do with its police building and older equipment and vehicles and decide how to pay for new ones.

Also, Saugatuck - as spelled out in its contract with its neighboring city - is asking Douglas to pay it half of the total amount of assets of the police department since Saugatuck taxpayers have paid for half of them over the years through its annual payments for those past police services.

Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier put in an application to the Michigan Department of Treasury (MDOT) which was offering grant funding to local municipalites to stimulate smaller, more cost-effective and efficient government.

Saugatuck recently received notice from MDOT that they were in line to receive a six-figure grant to fund new police vehicles for the city in its new agreement with the county.

In his June 1, letter to MDOT’s Dr. Eric Scorsone, senior deputy treasurer/Local Government Services, LeFevere wrote:

“On May 1, 1998 the Village of Douglas and the City of Saugatuck joined what had been two separate police departments into one combined police department through an Intergovernmental Police Services Agreement.

That agreement truly represented a consolidation, collaboration and cooperation between two small communities to provide a level of police coverage that neither could afford to do on their own.

In this arrangement it was the City of Douglas that provided the facilities for the department and served as the employer of the police officers that served our two communities.

This past February, Saugatuck decided to terminate the Intergovernmental Police Services Agreement in favor of contracting with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department on the same basis that contracts are offered to townships in Allegan County.

They didn’t negotiate any “special deal” and they didn’t consolidate a thing; they simply abandoned the Intergovernmental Agreement leaving the City of Douglas to deal with laying off employees, downsizing facilities and trying to maintain adequate police coverage for our community, on our own.

Having the Department of Treasury reward Saugatuck with grant funding to purchase cars when they knew, at the time they submitted their request, that they were scheduled to receive two fully equipped squad cars from the existing fleet is a truly disturbing outcome.

Rewarding the elimination of a local police department with grant funding is misguided public policy and I would encourage you to re-examine the basis on which the decision was made to award funding to the City of Saugatuck.

Sincerely, William LeFevere, Douglas City Manager.”

LeFevere also sent a copy of his letter to MDOT to Michigan Senator Tonya Schuitmaker and State Rep. Mary Whitford.

Saugatuck City Manager Harrier penned a June 3, 2018 response to LeFevere questioning and criticizing his efforts to try and keep the citizens of Saugatuck from getting the state grant.

“Dear Mr. LeFevere:

I have obtained a copy of your letter dated June 1, 2018 addressed to the Michigan Department of Treasury regarding your protest of the City of Saugatuck’s recent grant funding award.

I am respectfully requesting you rescind your letter as it does not contain all the facts and is very misleading.

I will refrain from making any judgment of unprofessionalism and leave that to the Douglas City Council as you ultimately answer to them.

The State of Michigan Competitive Grant Assistance Program was made available to provide incentive-based grants to stimulate smaller, more efficient government and encourage mergers, consolidations, and cooperation’s between two or more qualified jurisdictions. This is exactly what the City of Saugatuck did by consolidating its law enforcement with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office.

The City of Saugatuck is acting in a progressive and responsible manner out of fiscal necessity.

The city’s recent capital improvement analysis determined $7,000,000 in needed projects. Due to the city’s decreasing allowable millage rate and the higher cost of operating government in general, the city council was forced to explore options to operate the city in the most efficient manner possible.

One of these options was to review the outdated 20-year police agreement between Saugatuck and Douglas.

As you recall the city’s legal counsel prepared draft revisions to that agreement and that document was presented to you in 2016.

No action was taken by Douglas on the proposed revised agreement. In 2017 Saugatuck City Council then hired a consultant to review and make recommendations regarding police services for Saugatuck.

One of the conclusions of the consultant’s report was to consolidate the City of Saugatuck’s law enforcement with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office.

The city council took this report and its recommendations seriously and formed an internal working group to investigate further.

That working group met with you in January of 2018 and asked specifically if you had any options for cost savings prior to the city council making a final decision on law enforcement services.

Your reply was Saugatuck should increase taxes via a special public safety millage in order to fill any budget deficits for law enforcement services provided by Douglas. Needless to say, increasing the tax burden on residents was not a reasonable option for the Saugatuck City Council.

The city was left with no other option but to take the proper legal steps to not renew the police services agreement with Douglas and seek other alternatives; ultimately entering into an agreement with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.

Shifting blame to Saugatuck because you now have to deal with laying off employees, downsizing facilities and maintain adequate police coverage, is simply not appropriate.

These issues are a direct byproduct of your decisions to not work cooperatively with Saugatuck when given multiple opportunities. Douglas could, however, decide at any time to consolidate its law enforcement services with Allegan County as Saugatuck has, thus saving your taxpayers money and at the same time creating smaller, more efficient government.

That efficiency is exactly what the State of Michigan’s Competitive Grant Assistance Program was designed to stimulate.

To further address the allegations in your letter regarding Saugatuck receiving police vehicles from the existing Douglas fleet; all that information was presented in the state grant supporting application material.

The city identified it would expect to receive two police vehicles from Douglas in the 2018 Police Services Advisory Working Group Report.

As you are fully aware, these vehicles are not new, have higher mileage and are near the end of their useful life.

Therefore Saugatuck would need to purchase new vehicles very soon at an expense to the Saugatuck taxpayers.

The state grant the city received to purchase new law enforcement vehicles will help better the City of Saugatuck’s law enforcement services and bolster the city’s budget. By sharing more cost effective and efficient services with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office, the City of Saugatuck will be able to improve the quality of life for the taxpayers/residents of Saugatuck.

Sincerely, Kirk Harrier, City Manager
City of Saugatuck”

Two local residents spoke to the Douglas City Council at its meeting this week about their concerns of LeFevere’s actions in trying to kill Saugatuck’s state grant.
Glenna DeJong of Saugatuck said:

“My wife and I have owned a home in Saugatuck for ten years. We specifically picked the Saugatuck-Douglas area for its natural beauty and small town charm. We chose to retire here two years ago because of the people – we simply love our friends and neighbors in both Saugatuck and Douglas.

I cheer progress and successes in both cities. I was thrilled when I saw Douglas was recommended for a Michigan DNR Trust Fund Grant to acquire property for a public marina at Wade’s Bayou. Congratulations on that accomplishment.

Also congratulations on your Michigan DOT grant for the Blue Star Trail Extension. I worked for the MI Fitness Foundation for 20
years and I strongly support trail development.

But, Saugatuck and Douglas are two separate cities with separate governments. They make independent decisions based on unique needs and input from residents. Our cities don’t always agree – we have that freedom here in America - but that doesn’t mean we need to be disagreeable, or worse, spiteful.

As a resident of Saugatuck, if our city manager had written a letter to MDNR or MDOT chastising them for their grant-award decisions and asking for repeal of the monies awarded you, I would be incensed. I would be the first person at the podium during public comment at the next Saugatuck council meeting expressing my outrage and asking that he be fired for such childish and unprofessional actions.

Fortunately, there has never been, nor will there ever be, a need for me to do this as Kirk (Harrier, Saugatuck City Manager), would never do something so outrageous.

But I am here at your council meeting tonight because your city manager has done the inconceivable. Behold his letter dated June 1, 2018 to the Michigan Department of Treasury. He reprimands them for their $160,000 grant award to the City of Saugatuck for three new police cars, calling it misguided public policy.

This is truly embarrassing for Douglas and could put you in jeopardy of receiving future awards from the State. It is also an affront to the City of Saugatuck and its residents.

I shared Bill’s letter with my neighbors. Their comments included the following sentiments about his communication: sour grapes, unconscionable, unprofessional, that’s crazy, and can’t play well with others.

I cannot believe you, as a Council, would condone this behavior. I ask that you immediately send a repeal letter to the Michigan Department of Treasury, annulling the June 1 letter and voicing support for their award decision.

As in Bill’s letter, Tonya Schuitmaker and Mary Whiteford should be cc’d. I will hold my letters to them and attachment of my comments here, pending tonight’s agenda discussion.

I also ask for you to send an open letter of apology to the City of Saugatuck and its residents for this insult. I truly hope both cities can find a positive way forward. The tax paying citizens in this area want and deserve better.

Thank you.”

Saugatuck resident Marsha Caspar also told the council:

“Earlier this year, after much fact-finding and thoughtful study, the Saugatuck City Council made a decision to not re-new an agreement for law enforcement services with the City of Douglas. This was allowed in the agreement.

Since this decision, as a Saugatuck taxpayer, I anticipate the City of Saugatuck will implement the new agreement with the Allegan County Sheriff and transition out of the agreement with the Douglas Police Department in a positive and professional manner. I expect a smooth, cost effective changeover.

I also believe Douglas taxpayers expect the same professional attention to completing a smooth transition for the Douglas Police Department and the community it serves.

As part of the transition, I was proud and thrilled when I found out about the grant awarded to Saugatuck for three new police vehicles. These new vehicles will be used by the Allegan County Sheriff Deputies in Saugatuck and Allegan County for four to five years and save taxpayer money for replacement vehicles.

I went from feeling proud to feeling angry when I read the letter from William LeFevere, Douglas City Manager, to the Michigan Department of Treasury. Mr. LeFevere’s letter essentially criticized the grant decision and attempted to sabotage the grant award to Saugatuck.

This action by Mr. LeFevere is unprofessional on so many levels because:

1. Leaders positively guide their organizations, especially through change and transitions. It is clear Mr. LeFevere has not accepted a business decision made months ago.

2. Leaders focus on making their organizations better, not criticizing and trying to thwart other businesses or governmental units. Mr. LeFevere should devote his time to improving the City of Douglas and stop wasting time trying to block other’s good work.

3. Leaders work together when there is agreement on goals and outcomes, but respect divergent action when there are differences. If Mr. LeFevere’s June 1 letter is a snapshot of how he thinks and works with others, I understand why others take separate action rather than work with him.

I ask the Douglas City Council to contact the Michigan Department of Treasury, asking them to ignore the June 1, 2018 ill-spirited and ill-conceived letter sent by Mr. LeFevere.

I also ask you to inform Senator Tonya Schuitmaker and Representative Mary Whiteford of the same.

I expect nothing less from “The Village of Friendliness”.

Thank you.”

Asked Wednesday about his letter to MDOT, LeFevere said, in part: ““I never suggested they (Saugatuck officials) made use of subterfuge; it (the content of the letter) has been taken way out of context because people want to take it out of context. What I do talk about is the impact this action has on public policy.

“By the state awarding this grant to Saugatuck, the implication is that it’s okay, it’s good public policy to eliminate your local police department,” added LeFevere.

Douglas Mayor Linda Anderson was also interviewed on Tuesday: “By and large, Mr. LeFevere was speaking in terms of public policy.”

Asked about any council concerns regarding the letter, Anderson noted, “They (council) really did wish they had viewed the letter before it was sent off or have council work on it with Mr. LeFevere to see if everything came across clear.

“However, Kathy (Kathryn Mooradian, Douglas City Councilwoman) felt strongly that the letter was a mistake altogether. But she was really the only one who voted against it,” added Anderson.

Douglas City Manager Under Fire For Trying To Kill State Grant For Saugatuck

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