Retirement, promotions bring changes to public safety

Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE – In spite of what Mayor Joseph Kuspa called “media-led” concerns, City Council unanimously approved contracts last week for a new police chief and public safety director to take affect after current Director Thomas Coombs retires at month’s end.

The appointment of Detective Brian Klonowski as police chief was strongly supported by City Council and other officials, although the promotion brought back to the surface a 2004 assault charge against Klonowski that resulted in his having been suspended for one year.

“There was no protest from the council or the community on this issue,” Kuspa said. “The Public Safety Commission showed up to support it as well.”

During its regular meeting Aug. 17 the council approved contracts for Klonowski to serve as chief, and Police Chief Jeffrey Smith to succeed Coombs as director of Public Safety. Coombs will retire Aug. 27 after nearly 30 years of service with the department.

Overshadowing the appointments were resurfaced reports of Klonowski’s 2004 conviction on misdemeanor assault charges. He reportedly pleaded no contest following an incident with a woman he met at a party. Klonowski served work-release and tether programs, taken anger management and alcohol counseling, and was suspended without pay for one year.

“I think he’s redeemed himself,” Kuspa said. “I don’t think anybody is saying that his actions were appropriate, but there have been no repeat incidents of that type. The mayor and chief at the time issued a certain amount of discipline, and it was resolved through the court system.”

Coombs likewise supports the promotion, and said that since returning to duty Klonowski has been an “exemplary employee,” has obtained both master’s and law degrees, and has not had any disciplinary issues.

“Obviously it was 12 years ago,” Coombs said. “I’m not trying to make the incident seem small, but he’s been an exemplary employee, and has done a nice job running the detective bureau.”

Klonowski has served with the department for more than 20 years, and Kuspa said the promotion was based on a system of test scores, seniority and other factors.

“The process by which a chief is selected is subject to Michigan Public Act 78,” Kuspa said, a policy designed to, “take away a mayor’s ability to randomly select a police or fire chief.” An independent testing process has been used for 30 years in the city, and Klonowski and Smith scored highest for their respective positions.

“It wasn’t a matter of being arbitrary,” Kuspa said. “This is an officer who has gone through several promotions and was now up for the police chief’s position.”

Contracts approved last week by council will offer Klonowski an annual salary of $92,151, and Smith $98,601.

(James Mitchell can be reached at