The Wolverine Lake Village Council has decided to pull out of a joint police services agreement with Walled Lake that was set to expire June 30, 2013.
The decision was unanimously approved at the Village Council’s Wednesday, April 13 meeting.
The shared policing agreement fell short of a full merger between the village and city’s police departments, but included combined purchasing of police equipment including vehicles, weapons, ammunition, office supplies and other shared services.
According to Village Council President John Magee, the council’s decision was made after Wolverine Lake Police Captain John Ellsworth forwarded a new proposal to the Police Sharing Committee, which is comprised of Magee, Mayor Pro Tem Ed Sienkiewicz, and Councilwoman Linda Champagne.
“We’ve agreed to go our separate ways,” Magee said. “It was unanimously approved and we passed a motion to inform Walled Lake that we plan to dissolve the agreement.”
Apparently there have been some rumblings at the top of the command chain that has made the arrangement difficult.
“The dual command structure has been problematic over time and we couldn’t resolve that and get to a single-chief structure,” Magee said.
“It’s unfortunate that it didn’t work out,” said Walled Lake City Councilman Casey Ambrose. “The concept in theory had a lot of good possibilities, but it’s tough to keep all the stars lined up.”
Magee said when the agreement initially took effect, Walled Lake still housed a prisoner lock-up facility and dispatching center. Gradually, Walled Lake contracted with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department for dispatch services and with Wixom for prisoner lock-up services.
“We thought there would be more patrol coverage, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case,” Magee said. “By bringing patrol back in house, we will have a tighter focus on patrolling Wolverine Lake.”
While the shared services agreement allowed Wolverine Lake officers more flexibility for vacations and court time, the new proposal provides for a staff of five full-time officers and two part-timers to fill in, as well as two part-time marine patrol officers.
According to Magee, the preliminary budget for bringing back village policing for 2011-12 is pegged at $633,987, compared to the current fiscal year budget of $729,030.
The difference in the budgets includes a portion of former Wolverine Police Chief Joe George’s salary, the retirement of Detective Bob McGhee and allocating record-keeping duties to Wixom.
Ellsworth looked at the other option of contracting with the Sheriff’s Department for police services, but costs were higher, estimated at $712,000, excluding additional costs for marine patrols.
The crux of the discord however, and the reason why Wolverine Lake is severing the agreement with Walled Lake, is control.
Ellsworth will remain in charge as captain of the Wolverine Lake department, since the Village Charter doesn’t require a police chief to run the department. However, now that the two departments will separate, it appears George — who was recently hired as Orchard Lake’s police chief — was a casualty of an ongoing drama.
George tendered his resignation on Sept. 30 once Wolverine Lake and Walled Lake officials agreed to have one chief supervise both police departments. However, Walled Lake officials reportedly closed the door on hiring a new chief, and opted to leave the department in the hands of a captain, a move that allegedly didn’t sit well with elected officials in Wolverine Lake.
“It just hasn’t worked well for a variety of reasons — some perhaps salvageable while others inherent in the structure,” Magee said.
He also noted that Wolverine Lake couldn’t absorb Walled Lake’s personnel legacy costs in the long run.
Walled Lake City Manager L. Dennis Whitt didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment prior to press time.