More Support for Chief Sperle Shown at Fire Board Meeting


Saline's firehouse hosted a standing-room-only crowd for Wednesday's meeting of the Saline Area Fire Board.

Firefighters and others attended to show support for Saline Fire Chief Jason Sperle.

Township representatives before the last meeting revealed that Saline Mayor Brian Marl had been privately lobbying board members to terminate the fire chief. When township members saw the support Sperle had, there was no support for Marl's plan.

The agenda for Wednesday's meeting did not include an item on the chief's employment.

"They don't have the votes," explained one township official close to the situation.

Still, Sperle's supporters showed up and spoke.

One speaker called attention to a 2023 risk assessment of the fire department. In two different places, the assessment listed the personal or political interference of some fire board members as among the highest priority risks. One item accuses board members of intimidation. The speaker said the fire board was doubling down.

"Why are we looking at the chief's performance when we should be looking at why these people are on the board," the speaker said.

He asked the fire board to remove Mayor Marl as the chair of the fire board.

Lisa Slawson, a Marl supporter who runs local election campaigns, defended the fire board's decision to hold most of its last meeting in closed session.

"The reason they are closed is to protect the people the board is talking about," Slawson said.

One woman noted that Janet Dillon, a Saline City Councillor and one of two city representatives on the fire board, was quoted as saying she did not support Sperle for the Chief's position during the fire board's hiring process.

"I ask this board and the residents of the city, if you're going to dig in and not support your chief and the fire department, what are you still doing on this board today. You are holding back this department and making this community less safe," she said.

A York Township resident and retired firefighter who worked on the fire department's risk assessment study also spoke.

"I saw council members actively work to undermine the fire chief and I don't believe that to be appropriate, whatsoever," he said. "You have a fire chief here to manage your organization. I support that fire chief. I've spoken to him. I understand what he wants for the fire department and I wholeheartedly support that. I encourage this board to work with your fire chief to get it the job done."

Jake Herter, a Saline firefighter and president of the union, said he's been glad to see the fire department try to grow to keep up with the growing community. He said Sperle has helped the department get near gear and training and new trucks. He said the fire board should be concerned about that growth and the risk assessment study.

Lodi Township Board Trustee and fire board member Craig Swenson took offense to one comment that the fire board engaged in corruption by hiding a report. 

"Having been a police officer, I take my integrity pretty seriously. I take offense when people call it corrupt. So I suggest if you are concerned about corruption you need to contact the attorney general," Swenson said.

Resident Chris Budnik also spoke to the board.

"Frankly, I wonder what you are thinking. You have a chief who is trying to push through phenomenal legislation at the state level to be able to provides services. You have someone trying to self-navigate who has only support of these firefighters and their families. What are you doing?" Budnik asked. "It's up to you what you decide to do. What I will say is I don't like living in a town where there's the question of whether there is corruption. You represent our community and going after the first responders? I wouldn't do it."

Lisa Clark said she and her husband supported Chief Sperle. Like Budnik, she said if city representatives are upset Sperle's decision not to close South Ann Abor Street - which firefighters allege is the reason for the unhappiness with the chief - the city needs to find another way to hold festivals.

"Our number one priority is public safety. It's your job to figure that out. Do not wait until something terrible happens here," she said.

As the meeting went on, the friction between Councillor Dillon and Chief Sperle. Dillon has a reputation for nitpicking with administrators. At the city level, she was recently admonished by fellow Councillor Nicole Rice  for criticizing aspects of the DPW's hydrant flushing program.

At Wednesday's meeting, she had the most questions for Sperle. On two occasions, including one question about plans to repair to out-of-service trucks, Sperle simply smiled, stared straight ahead and said nothing in response to Dillon's questions.

The relationship between the board and the chief/department was twice referenced as top issues in the 2023 risk assessment study. 

Under the heading leadership retention and contention environment.

The other issue was headed "personal and/or political actions." 

How serious were these issues? They rank at the same priority as legacy costs, mutual aid, and response time, according to the study.

After the last meeting, a township representative on the board noted that city representatives on the board have a bigger issue with Sperle than the township representatives.

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