Conflict of ‘interest’? Citizens group files court appeal; request for fire run records denied

February 16, 2012  PLYMOUTH EAGLE.


Plymouth Township residents have filed suit with the Michigan Court of Appeals in an effort to derail the 10-mill question members of the Township Board of Trustees placed on the Feb. 28 ballot.

After more than 4,000 residents petitioned for a 1-mill Special Assessment District to preserve both the Emergency Medical Service and Advanced Life Support in the township, and four court hearings, board members were ordered by a judge to place the question on the ballot. Rather than the 1-mill requested on the petitions, however, the board members hiked the ballot request to 10 mills.

The appeal, filed by Northville attorney Greg Stempien, charges that the replacement of the petition language violates the constitutional rights of the citizens to petition their government for their right to vote.

Citizens Action Group of Plymouth representative Tom Kelly said the group, which originally circulated and submitted the petitions to the township board and brought the court actions demanding the right to vote, has withdrawn their support for the millage question in its current form and members area actively promoting a “No” vote on the issue..

“We’re urging residents to vote NO on this violation of constitutional rights,” said Kelly. Kelly further stated that this was not the intent of the group nor does it reflect the desire of those who signed the petitions seeking the vote.

In a related issue, the response time of firefighters in the City of Plymouth has come into question by citizens who allege that two and three calls have been made before firefighters or Emergency Medical Personnel respond under the new joint service arrangement with the City of Northville.

The City of Plymouth left the longstanding joint service agreement with Plymouth Township Jan. 1, this year and now depends on Northville City Fire Services for emergency calls.

That change prompted the township board members to attempt to reduce the fire budget by nearly $1 million, the loss in revenue they claimed would take place without the city contribution.

The township board has been negotiating salary reductions and concessions with the firefighters union, all of which have been agreed to by the union, according to Firefighters Union Treasurer Greg Mangan. The contract, however, remains unsettled.

The township board has continued to pursue other options, such as hiring a volunteer, on-call department with lesser qualifications and no Advanced Life Support training. These volunteers can also live as far as 15 miles outside the township after the adoption of new rules by the board who also agreed to a higher hourly wage for the volunteers.

The threat of reduced medical and emergency services was the initial impetus to the petition drive. Residents sought a 1-mill special assessment district to preserve the fire department services, which the township board members denied, repeatedly. The issue, with the increased rate, was placed on the ballot only after a court order.

One resident, who asked not to be named, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the dispatch emergency calls into the city and township to determine if there actually was a lag in response time. He filed his request with both the city and township of Plymouth.

Responses from each municipality indicate that his request has been denied. The township denied the request claiming the recordings were the property of the city and the city denied the request claiming that the recordings were in the possession of the township.

Both Township Police Chief Tom Tiderington and City Manager Paul Sincock have now contacted the resident, in an attempt to help facilitate his request. Sincock told the resident he would have to file a third FOIA or Freedom of Information request with the City of Northville requesting the recordings from the Plymouth city station, the resident said.

Tiderington reportedly told the resident that the recordings were stored on a computer and that downloading them was not feasible.

“I simply want to know if the reports of lagging response times are true,” the resident, who requested anonymity, said. “That’s all I want. I think citizens have a right to know if their safety is being impacted by decisions their elected officials are making. If so, something needs corrected and quickly,” he said.

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