Thursday, April 8, 2021

Public safety director’s contract is renewed

Chief Eric Luke 
A 3-year employment contract for Sumpter Township Public Safety Director/Police Chief Eric Luke was approved by members of the township board of trustees by a 5-2 vote last month.

The dissenting votes were cast by Trustee Peggy Morgan and Treasurer James Clark. Morgan had expressed her concerns about the contract during the study session which preceded the March 23 meeting.

“I do not feel the police chief should oversee the fire department nor the fire department oversee the police,” she said during the discussion of the contract.

Trustee Matt Oddy responded that he had seen only positive reaction to the current structure in the public safety department and had not heard any negative comments regarding the situation.

“We made that move, we still have a part-time chief and we've seen great improvements. I have not heard of one negative impact,” he said of the change the board members made three years ago, naming Luke as public safety director.

Trustee Tim Rush agreed noting that the public safety director structure is “not uncommon” and that “Chief Joe (Januszyk) runs the fire department and Chief Luke is the point of communication. This has worked flawlessly,” he said.

In response to Morgan's suggestion that the board members were unaware of problems with the command structure, Oddy suggested the board members ask Januszyk.

“Yeah, there were a couple of problems but they came from township hall,” Januszyk responded. He then repeatedly refused to say more as he said he was uncomfortable speaking on a public Zoom meeting.

Oddy reiterated that the overall reaction to the current system has been positive from the administrators and the firefighters. 

Morgan reiterated that there were problems with the structure and suggested that Januszyk meet with the trustees “two at a time” to discuss the situation.

That suggestion prompted a caution from township attorney Rob Young who reminded the board that the public meeting was the place to discuss this type of situation and that private meetings of the kind Morgan suggested could be a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

“This is where we discuss extending contracts. This is the place for discussion. Everybody has a right to talk, to discuss this publicly,” Young said.

“Well, my problem is the job description and I am going to have to decide if I am going to vote yes or no,” Morgan said. “The police chief shouldn't oversee the fire department. Both should report to the supervisor. I brought it up in public and I'm giving you all my opinion,” she said.

Trustee Don LaPorte who acts as the board liaison with the fire department said that he had “reached out to Chief Joe (Januszyk) and if he was unhappy I would expect he would tell me.”

He noted that the public safety director structure adopted was “all budget oriented to offer administrative help in getting grants. The fire chief runs the fire hall. He always has. At times they may disagree, they need to hash it out. This is not the place for that,” he said.

“I would like to have a conversation about the issue,” Luke said. “I am here every day and I expect him (Januszyk) to speak with me if there is an issue with the board. I have no idea what he's talking about. This is a strange place to bring it out at a public meeting. I'd like him to let me know what issues he hasn't brought to me in the past 3 years,” Luke said.

The contract for Luke was approved at the current salary of $103,376 annually with no changes to his job description.