By Ed Jacques, LEJ Editor
Like every other Michigan City, Port Huron has been hurt by decreasing home values and revenue sharing cuts from the state. Add to that a significant decline in manufacturing jobs and you have a proud community that struggles to provide adequate services to its citizens. So when the Port Huron Police De- partment’s top two police officers, Chief Jim Jones and Captain Don Porrett re- tired at the beginning of 2011, City Man- ager Bruce Brown thought it was a good opportunity to investigate the possibility of contracting police services with the St. Clair County Sheriffs Department. The City and the County split the cost of a nine-thousand dollar ($9,000) study to determine the feasibility of contracting with the county. Shortly after reviewing the study, Brown released his report on police ser- vices on February 21, 2011. In the report City Manager Brown highlighted and opined on the four options the City had at its disposal to save money in their de- livery of public safety services. The first was the creation of a Metropolitan Po- lice Department encompassing Port Hu- ron, Fort Gratiot Township, Port Huron Township, Kimball Township and possibly Marysville. Brown accurately pointed out in his report that Michigan is a “home rule” state and each gov- ernmental entity must agree to the concept and give up individual control of their departments for less cost and less services. The loss of pride, local autonomy and identity would probably outweigh any financial benefit. The report also rightfully pointed out other pension and fringe benefit issues that might be a financial hindrance. The City Manager pointed to “potential” budget shortfalls in the city and claimed the Administra- tion had identified between four hundred ($400,000) and five hun- dred ($500,000) thousand dollars of potential savings if the department agreed to voluntary reorganization and a number of layoffs. The cur- rent operating model of the police department would need to establish a partnership with the City Manager and be thoroughly reviewed by the new police chief. The report gave little analysis of what many members of the Port Huron Police Department had rec- ommended as the best answer for the citizens, administration, police officers and fire employees. That was their willingness to work with the fire department and cross train each other’s employees and become a public safety department. Brown’s report says that there has been a “spotted” success rate for these kinds of entities when in fact, in just about every case, they have been a financial and practical victory for every- one involved. It was very clear that Brown’s report was slanting towards consolidating the police department and/or a “fee for service” approach in a two-year pro- gram where Port Huron Police Depart- ment employees would be “managed” by the Sheriffs Department before a final decision on consolidation. Both propos- als would require some layoffs in the po- lice department and the admission that without a special actuarial study, it was not possible to pinpoint retirement costs to the city after full consolidation. But somehow the study predicated between eight-hundred thousand ($800,000) and 1.1 million dollars in savings. Port Huron POA President Brian Ker- rigan and COA President Roger Wesch both questioned how comprehensive a nine-thousand dollar ($9,000) study could be. Wesch gave his opinion that if the study was to be done correctly, it should have cost triple that. Wesch also insisted that the City Council take the time to hear from the community and its officers before a decision was made. Kerrigan reminded the Council that there would be no turning back on its decision and wondered if they had considered what their options were if they weren’t content with the sheriff department contract. Kerrigan and Wesch both emphatically pronounced their respect for the job that St. Clair County Deputies do and the respect they receive from citizens in Port Huron. When it appeared that the City Council may vote on the future of its police department within two weeks and with little input from its citizens, POAM’s Rapid Response Team was called in for immediate action. President Jim Tignanelli conducted newspaper and radio interviews. Pa- trol officers and command staff worked together passing out flyers and en- couraging the business community to get involved. POAM Services Direc- tor Ed Jacques researched and conducted a direct mail campaign delivering the same message that Tignanelli, Kerrigan and Wesch had been preaching. Port Huron citizens and business people need to voice their concerns to the City Council on the future of their police department. The plan, as it has in many other communities, worked to perfection. Phone calls were pouring into council members’ offices, the news media was on full alert and an avalanche of people showed up at the council meet- ing, with 100% support for keeping the Port Huron Police Department. The Council realized it had a tiger by its tail and voted unanimously not to con- solidate with the St. Clair County Sheriffs Department. One week later, Port Huron City Council named former Utica Police Chief Dan Reaves as its new Police Chief. COAM Business Agent Jerry Radovic has worked with Reaves in the past and likes the choice. “We will work with the Chief and the Council to make sure this police department survives the current economic meltdown,” said Radovic.