Battle Creek commissioner charged with violating ethics code, storms out of hearing

Posted at 10:37 PM, Jun 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-23 22:37:23-04

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. -- It began with plenty of yelling and ended with one city commissioner walking out. Battle Creek city commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday night that commissioner Jeff Domenico violated an ethics code by openly criticizing the city's police department on Facebook.

Domenico raised two points of order as the ethics hearing began, alleging he was being denied legal counsel while the rest of the commission was being counseled by an attorney.

Domenico's motions were overruled, and he quickly walked out of the commission chambers with several supporters following behind. The hearing continued with public comment and several of Domenico's supporters coming to his defense.

“The fact Commissioner Domenico is not here tells me he doesn’t feel like he has the support here," one resident said.

“Censure Mr. Domenico and prove to the citizens of Battle Creek  you’re trying to quiet their conversation," said another speaker.

At the center of the issue is a Facebook post that appeared on Domenico's public page at the end of May. The post was in response to a newspaper column from the Battle Creek Police Department's inspector. Domenico's post advised citizens to not follow the department's suggestions regarding filing complaints about the department's contracted towing company.

The column ended in part with this suggestion: "If any citizens has concerns or complaints regarding the service they received by the Battle Creek Police Department they are encouraged to contact the Office of Professional Standards at the Battle Creek Police Department."

Domenico took issue with the inspector's column and posted this response:

"I cannot recommend enough that you do NOT, under any circumstances, follow this process. Mr. Brad Wise would love it if you contact him directly. That way, he can control the situation and nobody will know about it. I have seen his efforts in one particular case. In it there is nepotism, conflict of interest, bias, leading witnesses, his opinion inserted in what is supposed to be a factual document, preferential treatment, lies scattered in the investigation with no follow-up and on and on."

The 5th Ward commissioner has been a vocal critic of the Battle Creek Police Department in the past, with several recent posts like this one still appearing on his public Facebook page. In 2013, Domenico told FOX 17 he had proof of police misconduct in the department, and during investigations into use of excessive force he hasn't shied away from voicing his distrust of the department .

Battle Creek Mayor Deb Owens told FOX 17 the Facebook post called into question during Tuesday night's hearing was the third instance that has been brought to the commission's attention. In the first two instances, the matter was resolved privately, Owens said, but the conversation the second time 'did not go well,' which is why the commission opted for hearing this time.

“This was very difficult," Owens told FOX 17 following the hearing.

“We would’ve loved to have heard his evidence. He could tell us why he did what he did and was he speaking as a city commissioner, or was he speaking as a citizen. That’s the line we have to draw.”

Through a unanimous vote, the commission ultimately decided Domenico did violate the ethics code by not promoting a positive workplace, adding he intimidated and humiliated another city employee.

Of the various possibilities for a violation, from censure to loss of a committee assignment, Domenico instead will only receive a private reprimand from the city's mayor and vice mayor.

“It is not our job to be critical of staff and policies of the city," Owens said. "That is the job of the city manager. But we as a commission have responsibilities to know what we can or cannot or should not do, and that’s where the line gets fragmented."

Domenico never returned to the hearing Tuesday night and did not return FOX 17's calls for comment.

But he did address his exit from the meeting in a post on his Facebook page late Tuesday night:

"I cannot be a part of an illegal process that violates my Oath of Office that I swore to uphold that I would follow the Constitution of the State of Michigan and the United States Constitution."