Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 17, 2013

Question about meetings handcuffs Frankfort search

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The city of Frankfort remains without a top cop for now.

The city council’s personnel committee was expected to recommend one of four police chief candidate finalists to the full city board during a meeting Tuesday. But officials held back on the recommendation after a Record-Eagle article examined whether closed-door interviews of several candidates violated state open meetings laws.

Frankfort Mayor Robert Johnson, a member of the personnel committee that conducted the closed-door interviews, declined comment on the decision to withhold the recommendation.

“I have no comment at this time,” he said. “We’re waiting to hear from our lawyer in regards to your first article.”

Michigan’s Open Meetings Act allows public bodies to review employee applications in private, if so requested by an applicant. However, all interviews by a public body for employment or appointment to a public office must be held during open public meetings.

Robin Luce Herrmann, a state media lawyer and general counsel to the Michigan Press Association, said the closed-session interviews violated that provision of the act, which is intended to give the public a chance to ask candidates questions and to review their credentials.

“Then, the public is assured that government is spending their money wisely,” Luce Herrmann said.

City attorney Joan Swartz McKay said the city has asked for an opinion on whether the interviews violated the act. McKay said she’s crafting that opinion and declined further comment.

Frankfort officials have said any OMA violations which might have occurred were unintentional. City Superintendent Joshua Mills said officials would “do whatever was needed” to correct any problems.

City council member Richard Haan, who has also questioned some of the candidates’ qualifications, offered one solution to any possible violations.

“I think the city ought to go back and reconduct the whole process,” Haan said.

The four candidates interviewed by the personnel committee were Robert Arciniega, a former Michigan State Police trooper; Robert Lozowski, Frankfort’s interim police chief; Thomas Kohl, a lieutenant at the Shelby Township Police Department investigations bureau; and Walter Wing, a sergeant with the Lake Odessa Police Department.

Johnson said Friday that three of the four men requested closed-session interviews.

Kohl said he requested his interview be in a closed session because it was a “personnel issue.”

“I wanted my information to be kept private,” he said.

Wing was unclear about whether he asked for his interview to happen behind closed doors.

“I don’t remember,” he said.

Lozowski was interviewed in open session. In the past, he said, such interviews with city officials have taken place behind closed doors, but Friday the setup was different.

“I just went ahead and did it the way they had it set up, which was open,” he said.

Arciniega did not respond to requests for comment.