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Monday, March 18,2013

The politics of data

The Meridian Township Board of Trustees balks at a public safety study

by Andy Balaskovitz
Friday, May 6 — The Meridian Township Board of Trustees withheld a vote at their Thursday night meeting to spend about $68,000 for an outside consultant to study the township’s police, fire and emergency medical service staffing.

Four voting members of the board expressed opposition to the study, while three were in favor.

In the week leading up to the vote, multiple trustees said they received letters and phone calls from residents and public safety personnel fearing the study would lead to a privatization of EMS services or staff reductions, or both.

Much of the talk at Thursday’s meeting was about how Meridian Township’s police, fire and EMS is staffed and how privatizing any portion of it could compromise its service levels. Trustee John Veenstra opposed the study on grounds that it was too expensive.

However, Township Supervisor Susan McGillicuddy and trustees Brett Dreyfus and Lynn Ochberg said the issue was not about privatizing any portion of public safety services. It’s about looking at what are appropriate staffing levels in light of the economic climate, they said.

“Without data, I don’t know how we can make these assertions” about what are appropriate levels, Dreyfus said.

McGillicuddy agreed, adding that a study is about scientific data, not about people’s positions on what public services should be privatized.

“Let’s take the emotion out of it,” she said.

Ochberg and Dreyfus supported a study but only if the township issued a Request for Proposals to see if they could find consultants that would do it for less money.

Township Manager Gerald Richards suggested the township solicit the services of the International City/County Management Association, a Washington-based consulting firm. McGillicuddy said it is a respected, nonpartisan firm that has helped other Michigan cities, including Wyoming and Novi. In the case of Wyoming, she said, the consulting firm recommended increased staffing levels.

Township Clerk Mary Helmbrecht said she initially supported the idea before Thursday’s meeting but changed her mind. She said while a study may be good, she may not end up supporting its results, including reduced staffing or perhaps privatizing EMS.

“I am against spending money on getting results back I may or may not support,” she said.

McGillicuddy, after seeing four voting members of the board opposed to spending for a study, moved past the item on the agenda.

“It doesn’t look like we’ll have any data or baseline information,” she said.


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