Northville safety director chides Plymouth board
March 15, 2012 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Recent actions of the Plymouth Township Board of Trustees were questioned by a resident with 27 years in the public safety field during the regular meeting last Tuesday.
John Werth, a township resident and the current Northville Public Safety Director, asked to speak to the board members at the March 7 meeting. This was the first regular board meeting following the layoff of six more firefighters March 1, reducing the current force to 15 full-time firefighters to serve 28,000 residents
Werth told the board members that he lives in the township and that his family lives in the township.
“Eight people I love live in the township and your actions have me concerned for their safety, he told the board members. Werth went on to tell the board members that he agreed with their position that it was their responsibility to set the level of service in the town- ship, but once you do, you have to own it”
“I can operate a fire department with one firefighter if I have to” Werth said, “but is it safe? Is it the right thing to do? No”
Werth cautioned the board that the ongoing situation with the fire- fighters union was a matter of management and union contract negotiations, which had apparently been unsuccessful.
He asked Trustee Ron Doroshewitz where the township was getting fire department management advice, “from Mr. Edwards’ brother-in-law?” he said, referring to Township Treasurer Ron Edwards. Edwards has been named as the chief opposition, along with Supervisor Richard Reaume to settling a contract with the firefighters’ union.
Doroshewitz answered that he had met with the firefighters “three years ago” to discuss the issue but in a “Columbo moment” at the end of the three-hour meeting a fire union representative told him the numbers they were dis- cussing didn’t include legacy costs.
The trustee was interrupted by Firefighters Union President Dan Atkins who said it was not a three- hour meeting and that Doroshewitz was misremembering. the incident.
Edwards then interrupted both of them heatedly telling Adkins, “You have been spreading lies and rumors and ruining this community for three months”
Werth attempted to continue, telling the board that this situation, “boils down to leadership.” He also said, in referring to the firefighters and the concessions they have offered the township, “I would love to negotiate with these guys.”
Earlier in the meeting Edwards accused Township Clerk Joe Bridgeman of causing the dissension in the township.
“All these problems seem to have stared in your office,” Edwards told Bridgeman, who cast the only dissenting vote on the lay- offs and station closing and has been the lone dissenting vote several times during the controversy. “That’s because I listen to the people, show concern and answer their questions. They are the ones who put me here and I respect them. Some of you guys, well, I don’t know,” Bridgeman said. While one resident thanked the board for taking the action needed to balance the fire department budget, many others expressed their concern for their safety and their property values, along with anticipated insurance rate increases due to the reduced fire safety capability. “Our (Northville) transport generated $442,000,” he said. “Get somebody to run this place. Get a fire professional.”
In a direct comment to Reaume, Werth said, “Richard, you’ve got to be honest with the public. You need to answer questions from the people.”
The controversy began when the City of Plymouth left the joint agreement for fire service with the township, leaving an operating budget shortage of about $900,000. The city now depends on Northville in a joint fire protection agreement.
Township officials began layoffs in the department and thwarted an attempt by a citizens’ group to place a special assessment district on the ballot last month by increasing the citizens’ petition l-mill request to 10 mills, after being ordered by the courts to accept the petitions and allow the residents to vote. The millage failed when the Citizens’ Action Group of Plymouth withdrew their support for the increased levy.
The group has filed an appeal with the court which has not yet set a hearing date.
The township is currently in binding arbitration with the fire- fighters’ union.