Saugatuck Township Fire Officials File Formal Complaint Against Saugatuck Township Board Trustee/Fire Board Member Roy McIlwaine
Saugatuck Township Fire Department officials have filed a formal complaint against Saugatuck Township Board Trustee and Fire Board Member Roy McIlwaine saying he “has placed the lives of the Fire District personnel, as well as ALL the District’s citizens at unnecessary risk.”
The fire department officials filed the formal complaint with the Fire District’s Fire Administrative Board which is made up of representatives of the district’s three governmental partners: the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas and Saugatuck Township.
The formal complaint letter dated Nov. 7th was signed by Fire Department Deputy Chief Chris Mantels, Captain Linus Starring, Captain Mike Betts, Captain Brent Van Oss, Lieutenant Jeff Dornbush, Lieutenant Kyle Meyer, Lieutenant Mike Blok, Sergeant Chris Bernhardy, Sergeant John Mileskiewicz and Sergeant Mike England.
At the center of this ongoing controversy are Saugatuck Township Board Trustees McIlwaine, Clerk Brad Rudich, Trustee Lori Babinski and Trustee Doug Lane who are seeking to vote to change the International Fire Code as it applies to the Saugatuck Township Fire District.
Those changes, say their critics - including Saugatuck-Douglas Fire Chief Greg Janik, the aforementioned fire department officials, Saugatuck Township Fire District firefighters and many members of the public - are putting the lives of firefighters, business owners and area citizens in jeopardy.
Those critics also say the fire code changes being sought by McIlwaine and his fellow township trustees are solely being done to placate a small number of developers who have complained about the cost of having to adhere to the fire district’s fire codes - which are based on the International Fire Code - and are counter to accepted fire rules and regulations designed to protect the public.
It was earlier this year that Township Clerk Rudich and Township Manager Aaron Sheridan secretly began to rewrite the long-standing fire codes for the local fire district and then tried to rush those changes through with a township board vote without even discussing the proposed changes with its own fire department officials.
When those fire officials - including Fire Chief Janik - learned of this surreptitious action by Rudich and Sheridan - they raised the alarm and publicly criticized the move saying the proposed changes would endanger citizens and firefighters lives and that Rudich, Sheridan, Babinski, Lane and Township Zoning Administrator and Planner Steve Kushion are making changes despite having no education, experience or understanding of the International Fire Code, firefighting rules and regs, firefighting operational policies and procedures, etc.
Janik has publicly and repeatedly stated he will not follow any township board changes to the Fire Code that puts lives in danger.
Saugatuck Township Supervisor Jonathan Phillips has also criticized his fellow trustees’ actions and has publicly supported the fire officials.
Also criticizing the Township Board trustees behind the Fire Code past and proposed changes are Saugatuck and Douglas city officials who say the township has unilaterally attempted to make these changes without any attempt to consult with them, even though their respective municipalities are equal members of the local fire district.
Officials of both city governments say they will not go along with any such fire code changes by the township as they also believe they would endanger their residents.
In a related action, concerned citizens have filed official paperwork to begin the process to recall Rudich, Babinski, Lane and McIlwaine and have them removed from their government positions. A public hearing was held on this recall move Monday (See Page 3 story).
Here is the full formal complaint letter filed against McIlwaine:
“We, the Fire Officers of the Saugatuck Township Fire District, wish to file a formal complaint against Fire Board Member Roy McIlwaine. In our opinion, Mr. McIlwaine has violated the Restated Rules and Bylaws of the Saugatuck Township Fire District Administrative Board.
“The Restated Rules and Bylaws of the Saugatuck Township Fire District, A. Fire Administrative Board, Section 5. state “Candidates for the Board should be without bias and individuals who will not favor one governmental unit over another. Board members should be primarily interested in providing the best possible fire protection to the district, while always seeking the most efficient use of tax monies.”
“Mr. McIlwaine made the motion, and subsequent vote of support, to Sec. 16-27 Modifications to the ordinance to adopt the 2015 International Fire Code at the Township of Saugatuck’s November 1, 2017 board meeting. We feel that this action has placed the lives of the Fire District personnel, as well as ALL the District’s citizens at unnecessary risk.
“Again, in our opinion, Mr. McIlwaine has violated the bylaws by selectively looking out for members of the Township Board of Trustees, rather than all the citizens Mr. McIlwaine is intended to be serving in his position as a Fire Board member.
“Our sworn duty as Fire Officers and command staff of the Fire District is to serve and protect ALL citizens, visitors, and personnel within the limits of the Saugatuck Township Fire District. We do this in accordance with our Mission “To minimize community risks and improve the quality of life for all persons within the Saugatuck Township Fire District.”
“Mr. McIlwaine’s actions will negatively impact our ability to effectively perform our sworn duties. We want to be on record that we disagree with the actions of Mr. McIlwaine, and the Board of Trustees of Saugatuck Township.”
In response to the fire officials’ formal complaint, McIlwaine at Monday’s Fire Board meeting provided the following written response:
“Members of the board, Since receiving a copy of the formal complaint letter dated November 7, 2017 (why I got the letter on Nov. 17 three days before our regular meeting is interesting at best) my response follows.
“It seems we can argue and debate forever whether the township’s adoption of the 2015 IFC with modifications ‘negatively impact our ability to effectively perform our sworn duties.’
“This is a direct quote from the complaint. Just let me say that I was at a meeting with this board when the township’s zoning administrator and our supervisor were told we needed to fix some minor differences.
“We went from that level of cooperation to total rejection of our IFC modifications. I know the township has gotten many pages of criticism from Chief Janik since that meeting and the township went from being ‘almost there’ to ‘endangering the lives of firefighters.’
“My main objection to the complaint is that the officers say I ‘violated the bylaws by selectively looking out for members of the (Saugatuck) Township Board of Trustees, rather than all the citizens…’ I am offended by this comment.
“As an elected trustee I have a sworn duty to obey the laws of the township and always consider what is in the best interest of all property owners. I have done this to the best of my ability.
“I have never voted in the interests of board members. We can disagree over issues of fire safety but I do not ‘look out for the members of our board.’
Chief Janik has alerted me to risk reduction issues n the past and I hve helped him accomplish his goals (i.e. short-term rentals.) I support risk reduction.
“The township board has always said if something needs to be changed for good reason we will listen. We are open to suggestions but broad overwhelming statements that imply we are endangering our firefighters and residents serve no useful purpose, other than to inflame opinions and personally injure people, myself included.
“Thank you for taking the time to consider the complainant and my response.”
Chief Janik responded to McIlwaine’s comments by saying his responses to the township officials’ efforts to modify the IFC were either ignored, disregarded or seriously misinterpreted by them.