Simmering disputes within the Saline Police Department led Mayor Brian Marl, last September to call for an independent review. City Council voted to allocate $5,000 for consultant Jon Hess to conduct a through review and report recommendations to council.
In December, Hess delivered the report. He stated that the staff was dedicated and professional, but there was “brokenness” within. It was not entirely clear from the report what was broken.
He made a series of recommendations, which included improving policies and procedures and assuring that officers were trained in applying them. Chief Hrinik discussed hiring a consultant firm called Lexipol to implement this.
The issue was listed on the agenda for this week’s City Council meeting. Council was to vote on approval of a subscription with Lexipol for $5,445 and an implementation fee of up to $10,000.
At the opening of the meeting, Marl amended the agenda, striking the Lexipol contract deliberation. He did, however, promise to bring up the issue later in the meeting.
During citizens’ comments, Saline resident John Heller rose to express his concerns about the arrangement. Heller once worked as a dispatcher in the police department.
“I would just like to point out that Mr. Hess, whom you hired to evaluate the police department for $5,000 and who gave recommendation to revise and rewrite the policies and procedures at the police department, at the time he made his report was also an employee of Lexipol,” Heller said. “That’s the same company that you are now proposing to award a $10,000 no-bid contract to, apparently without investigating whether or not there are other entities that could do that.”
“I’d just like to have that on the record that this does seem to be somewhat of a kickback scheme and an unethical way of doing business,” Heller added.
In her citizen comments, Mary Hess (unrelated to Jon Hess) also contended that the contract should have gone out for competitive bidding.
Late in the long council session, Marl addressed the issue. His action to postpone voting on the contract was apparently due to concerns he had been hearing.
“I had some brief discussions with several of you, not all, and I also spoke to the city manager and the chief today,” Marl said. “Obviously it’s an issue that we want to be very thoughtful about.”
Marl proposed that City Council address the matter in a one-hour work session prior to the start of the next council meeting to be held on February 29. A quick poll of council members indicated that they would be available and willing to do this.
In September, before the start of the SPD review by Jon Hess, Marl had expressed the hope that it would produce “honest, objective feedback.” After the review was delivered some weren’t too sure that had happened.
“To me, this was a whitewash,” Heller said of the December report. “He (Hess) was brought in to cover this up.”
For Heller, the recommended Lexipol contract seemed to confirm his suspicions that the review might not have been so objective after all.