City officials anticipate reorganization under state management

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK — Changes in the way the city does business — including management of public safety departments — are as inevitable as the appointment of an emergency manager. Effectively stripped of authority, city officials begin the summer waiting for guidance and instructions from Lansing.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” Mayor Thomas Karnes said. “We haven’t heard anything from the state just yet.”

Karnes said the first announcement he expects from state treasury officials will be the appointment of an emergency manager. Prior to the Memorial Day weekend, City Council members twice rejected the terms of a consent agreement that would have allowed local input in city business, decisions which would have required approval by a state-appointed oversight panel.

The deadline for approving that contract has passed, and Karnes said the appointment of a manager was inevitable.

“That’s the only option we have,” Karnes said.

Although rejected by the council, the terms of the consent agreement likely will provide the blueprint for addressing the city’s anticipated budget deficit, expected to be about $2 million when the fiscal year ends June 30.

Included in the agreement was a proposal to merge the city’s police and fire operations into a joint public safety department; other options included a scaled-down fire department that would merge with neighboring agencies.

A plan for emergency medical services, under the tentative consent agreement, would have to be covered by agencies other than the city’s fire department.

Karnes said last week that he hadn’t been informed yet which of these options the state will impose.

“It’s too early to tell,” Karnes said. “I can’t even begin to guess.”

City administration under state authority will be handled — at least initially — without a full-time city manager. Interviews were held last month to replace City Manager Joe Merucci, whose last day in office was May 23, but the rejection of a consent agreement made that decision all but irrelevant.

“As it stands now we’ll turn control of the city over to a (yet) unidentified person,” Karnes said. “We just have to wait and see what happens.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)