Committee approves separating Walker police, fire operations

Posted at 5:47 PM, Oct 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-06 17:47:34-04

WALKER, Mich. — After combining its police and fire operations just five years ago in an effort to cut costs, a committee Tuesday voted to move ahead with a plan that would once again separate the departments and shake up leadership.

The Tuesday vote means a police and fire subcommittee can now work toward determining new job duties for newly promoted fire and police chiefs, as well as the new role for the city's current public safety chief.

The city commission narrowly approved the measure back on Sept. 21.

Under the proposed reorganization plan, the city's current deputy police and deputy fire chiefs would be promoted to chiefs of their respective departments. Both would report to the city manager, as opposed to the current model where the deputy chiefs answer to Catherine Garcia-Lindstrom, the city's chief of public safety.

City leaders contest the move is about smart succession planning and being prepared for an expected wave of retirements over the next few years, including the top three ranking personnel in the city's police department.

"This is us making sure we don’t lose the brain-trust we have," Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Deschaine said Tuesday.

While Garcia-Lindstrom would remain on the city payroll, the restructuring would take her out of management and instead place her in a role more focused on developing policy and planning.

Garcia-Lindstrom has publicly slammed the proposed plan, amid rumors and talk swirling that the reorganization is a veiled effort to push her out of the position.

“I know there’s been a lot of speculation and a lot of back and forth, none of which is healthy," she told reporters following Tuesday's meeting, instead directing her frustration with the reorganization at the media.

“To be honest, every time the media shows up and every time there’s another rumor that’s out there it’s got a life of its own. At this point that’s pretty much all I’m going to say because it doesn’t make it better, just seems to only make it worse."

Deschaine reiterated to reporters Tuesday the changes have nothing to do with Garcia-Lindstrom’s job performance, adding "she's doing a fantastic job."

“We’ve been doing our due diligence with the succession planning, keeping our deputies involved; two deputy chiefs and also Catherine," he said. "At the same time we need to move forward and there might be some resistance there, but I think at the end of the day we’ll be in a better place.”

While the 2010 restructuring to combine police and fire operations was done as a cost-saving measure,  Deschaine said separating the two departments again will not lead to higher taxes.

However, discussions regarding specific titles, compensation, and detailed job responsibilities have yet to happen, but is expected to within the next couple weeks.

"At this point in time, we haven’t had any discussion about pay raises or how it affects our budget, which I think will be very minimal," Deschaine said.

“It’s not going to increase the taxes for anybody. We’re basically dealing with the same three individuals that we have today, it’s just reorganizing their responsibilities."