TRAVERSE CITY — Frankfort city officials are ready to pin a badge on a new police chief after they held an open-to-the-public, second round of candidate interviews.
City council members unanimously agreed to offer the job to Walter Wing, currently a sergeant with the Lake Odessa Police Department, following a special council meeting Tuesday morning, Councilor Richard Haan said.
"To me, Walter was head and shoulders above the rest," Haan said of the four job seekers interviewed during the meeting.
Wing could not be reached for comment.
The council's personnel committee previously interviewed Wing and two other candidates behind closed doors. That move raised questions about the council's compliance with Michigan's Open Meetings Act, which states all interviews by a public body for employment or appointment to a public office must be held during open public meetings.
Robert Johnson, Frankfort's mayor and a member of the personnel committee, originally said a chief of police finalist would be sent to the full city council following the closed-door interviews. Officials then halted the recommendation while city attorney Joan Swartz McKay crafted on opinion on whether the private interviews violated the act.
McKay would not comment on the opinion she prepared for the council. She said she didn't know if it factored into the decision to hold the second round of public interviews.
"I can guess, but I don’t know for sure," she said. "My guess has to do with the opinion I gave them, so I really can’t comment.”
Frankfort Superintendent Joshua Mills declined to discuss McKay's opinion. He said any possible violations of open meetings laws were unintentional and said city council members wanted to correct them if they occurred.
"If by any means there was any association with not complying with the Open Meetings Act, they wanted to ensure (they revisited) that," Mills said.
Jennifer Dukarski, an attorney with the Michigan Press Association, said the second round of public interviews moved the city council into compliance with state law.
"They've performed the necessary remedial action and it would appear they are in compliance with the Open Meetings Act," Dukarski said.
One member of the public and a local newspaper reporter attended the interviews, Mills said.
Each interview on Tuesday lasted about 30 minutes, Haan said. The council then publicly deliberated for 30 minutes before voting to offer the job to Wing.
The city council and Wing still need to negotiate contract terms. Frankfort's former Chief Keith Redder earned about $58,000 annually in salary, not including benefits, Mills said.
Mills said Wing has Benzie County ties. He was raised in Thompsonville and graduated from Benzie Central High School. Mills said Wing has a "proven track record" of being creative within a small police department.
Wing manages the Lake Odessa Police Department's day-to-day operations, said Mark Bender, Lake Odessa's police chief and village manager. Wing's duties in the Ionia County community include overseeing the department's Reserve Police Officer Program, which involves volunteer officers who assist the department with special events and work under the supervision of certified officers.
Such a program could work in Frankfort, Mills said.
Bender said Wing will make an "exceptional" police chief.
"It would be Lake Odessa's loss and Frankfort's gain," he said.