Thursday, August 31, 2023

Wayne city manager abruptly tenders resignation

Lisa Nocerini
The sudden resignation of Wayne City Manager Lisa Nocerini was an apparent surprise to several members of the city council last week.

Nocerini, currently a key figure in multiple city lawsuits, submitted her resignation in an email to Wayne Mayor John Rhaesa, Mayor Pro-tem Alfred Brock and city attorneys on Sunday, Aug. 20. The entire council was only informed of her resignation during a special meeting called for Thursday, Aug. 24. During that meeting, council members voted to accept the resignation effective today, Aug. 31. 

Nocerini, who has been with the city for 8 years, has reportedly been hired as the city manager in Douglas, a community near Saugatuck. Wayne Police Chief Ryan Strong will serve as acting city manager until a replacement can be recruited and hired.

During the special meeting last week, Councilman Mathew Mulholland expressed his concern about the manner in which Nocerini's resignation had been communicated to officials. During the meeting, Rhaesa admitted he and Brock received the email from Nocerini on Sunday. 

“It seems like there's been negotiations going on that the council wasn't aware of,” Mulholland said. 

Rhaesa defended the delay in communicating with the council and said it was due to an effort to inform all councilmembers at the same time of the resignation.

After agreeing to Aug. 30 as an effective date for Nocerini's departure, the council voted to name Strong as the interim city manager until Sept. 5. The council also agreed to accept letters of interest from other current department heads in becoming the acting city manager. They also authorized the preparation of a job description for the new city manager and the acceptance of applicants from hiring firms. 

Mulholland cast the only dissenting vote on both the date of Nocerini's departure and the appointment of Strong, citing the failure of Rhaesa to provide prompt information to the council.

Nocerini and Strong are named as defendants in two current lawsuits filed against the city. One of the suits, filed by resident Mark Blackwell, charges violations of his First Amendment rights. He claims Nocerini instructed Strong to falsely arrest him in exchange for the promotion to police chief. He was subsequently found not guilty of any of the charges she alleged. Earlier this month, a federal judge dismissed city efforts to have Blackwell's suit for violation of his civil rights dismissed and ruled that his lawsuit had provided enough evidence to move forward. 

In a separate lawsuit, police Ofc. Abraham Hughes also alleges that Nocerini interfered with the hiring process in the promotion of Strong, denying him the job based on his refusal to arrest Blackwell. His case is also moving through the court system to trial.

Nocerini also accused former City Councilman Christopher Sanders of stalking with criminal intent. He is awaiting trial next month on those criminal allegations. Nocerini was also reportedly the instigator of a lawsuit filed by the city against former Councilman Anthony Miller accusing him of violating his fiduciary responsibilities by providing evidence to the Michigan State Police during a criminal investigation. She also filed a lawsuit seeking financial damages from the city as a result of the alleged stalking by Sanders which was resolved by a financial settlement to her.

Evidence in the Blackwell, Hughes and Sanders' legal proceedings includes an independent investigation of Nocerini's professional conduct prepared in August of 2018. The report, which concluded Nocerini should be disciplined “up to termination,” has been allowed by each of the courts despite numerous city efforts to disallow the report as evidence. Following the report, council members at the time failed to take action as recommended by the investigators. That lack of action was followed by the resignations of the city attorney, the police chief and the personnel manager.  

Rhaesa said, during the meeting, that he considered Nocerini's resignation a loss.

“This is a time for us to come together for this community.  We are losing a great person in my opinion. We have had eight years of consistency,” he said.