Village battle over Oakley Police Department resumes

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Oakley — One day, the village police were uninsured. The next, they were covered. Another day, the police were disbanded. The next, they had returned to work.

Each day seems to bring a new development in this small central Michigan community with a big police department.

Earlier this month the police, already accused of having too much political power, resumed operations without a council vote after volunteer officers paid $25,000 for department insurance.

The village of Oakley has 300 residents and 100 auxiliary police officers, volunteers who cover the $38,000 police budget.

With the Oakley Board of Trustees deadlocked 3-3 on most issues, critics compared the police to a military junta that takes over a banana republic.

"They're out of control," said Trustee Fuzz Koski. "They seem to think they don't need to have any council approval."

By returning to work without council approval, the police are operating illegally, said Koski. By enforcing the law, they are breaking it.

“They’re out of control,” Trustee Fuzz Koski, center, said of the  police. “They seem to think they don’t need to have any council approval.”

But Police Chief Rob Reznick said the trustees, in voting to disband the police, ruled the action would last until the department received insurance.

"You like to believe I'm running rampant, doing everything on my own. That's not the case," he told a reporter.

Reznick said Sue Dingo, the board president pro tem, had approved the police's return.

He refused to answer any other questions, abruptly ending a phone call by hanging up.

Dingo didn't return several phone calls.

The community has 300 residents and 100 auxiliary police officers.

But Police Chief Rob Reznick says Sue Dingo, the board president pro tem, had approved the police’s return.

The volunteer reserves are well-heeled out-of-towners who donate so much money that they cover the $38,000 police budget and some other government expenses.

In return, their status as auxiliary officers allows them to bring their guns into no-weapon zones such as bars and ballparks, even while off-duty.

The latest controversy with the police began in July when the Michigan Municipal League canceled the village's insurance.

The organization said it was concerned by the high number of reserves and numerous lawsuits filed against the village by a village trustee feuding with Reznick.

On July 1, the same day the insurance expired, Dingo announced village clerk Cheryl Bolf had found new coverage to replace it.

During a trustee meeting in August, Bolf said she didn't realize the new insurance didn't cover police.

On Sept. 9, the trustees voted 5-1 to disband the police because of the lack of insurance.

The vote was remarkable because, following the death of Supervisor Doug Shindorf, most tallies ended in a 3-3 deadlock.

Three days later, however, the police were back on the street.

Koski said he was told by Dingo that the reserves had purchased $500,000 worth of coverage for one year.

But Koski said the council needed to approve the resumption of police duties.

He filed a lawsuit in Saginaw Circuit Court to stop the return. A week earlier, he had filed a lawsuit against the legality of the insurance adopted in July.

In both cases, Koski argues, Dingo overstepped her authority by making the moves without council support.

The two cases are scheduled to be heard Oct. 7.

"I'm just at the point where I'd like the judge to make a decision: Does she run the town by herself?" said Koski. "Should the rest of the council just go home?"

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