The public really does have a right to know

Feb. 20, 2014  PLYMOUTH EAGLE.

 

OPINION

 

“We think his philosophy would be a good one for some local officials and chiefs to at least consider.”

 

 

Recent personnel events challenging management skills in Plymouth Township are a more common occurrence in municipalities than most of the public knows.

The reason is simple. Police chiefs, fire chiefs, township supervisors and mayors aren’t real eager to air their dirty linen in public, no matter how serious. If they have personnel matters that need handling, they would prefer to do it within the confines of their own municipal building. We understand that, and really, with the current laws in place, it is often necessary for department managers to be very cautious about the privacy rights of employees. Often, they walk a fine line, knowing that an individual may not be exactly suited for the rigors of public safety work. Finding a means to redirect them, protect the integrity of services to taxpayers and not be responsible for the individual taking up the same profession in a different community isn’t a task for amateurs.

Late last month, two police officers in Plymouth Township resigned after being on paid administrative leave for almost four months. Their resignations came as a result of an illicit sexual relationship one of them had with another officer who is now suing the township for wrongful termination. When her attorney subpoenaed township emails and other communications, the relationship, along with the dereliction of duty of another officer, and the lack of attention paid to the situation by the sergeant in charge, were discovered.

There has certainly been no effort by the township to make any of this public, not the particulars of the lawsuit, the internal investigation or the conditions of the resignations. We can almost understand that, after all, why send the message that these kinds of things are going on into the public forum? Isn’t it best to protect the confidence of the public in the efficiency and ethics of the police officers enforcing the laws? We understand that opinion, but depending on the situation, our answer is no.

One of the finest police chiefs we’ve ever encountered in decades of covering municipalities used to say that it was part of his job to keep the public informed. He told us many times that he believed that if he provided the information about any situation he could get in front of it, and let the public know what he had done to ensure that the problems had been solved in the best way possible.

We think his philosophy would be a good one for some local officials and chiefs to at least consider.

If this former chief had been faced with the Plymouth Township situation, we would have gotten a call detailing what happened, then a written statement, explaining what had been done to correct the problems and the actions taken by the township. He would have caged the account in language demonstrating that the department would not tolerate any type of misconduct or dereliction of duty. He would always emphasize the integrity of the public safety profession and would promise to continue to be diligent in providing the best service possible to the public, even if it meant dismissing less-than-stellar officers.

He would have stopped the gossip and innuendo, which is always far worse and more salacious than the facts, immediately. He would have faced the situation head on, taken charge and controlled the tenor of information, despite any attempts from politicians to control him.

He knew that if reporters had to dig for the information, had to search for it through miles of legal filings or be informed by sources with personal agendas, the situation could quickly get out of his control.

As we said, he believed it was part of his job as a police chief to keep the public informed. We think so, too.

|News Plymouth Michigan

Plymouth Voice

 

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