Royal Oak manager proposes $210K package for police chief while fire department can't get its alert system fixed

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Tonight, the city manager of Royal Oak, Don Johnson, will ask the city commission to approve a deal under which its police chief will gain a new title and be paid approximately $210,000 a year.

The proposed arrangement, which sources say was quietly inserted into the meeting’s agenda, will ask the commission to approve hiring Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue as both head of the police department and assistant city manager simultaneously. A document posted to the city of Royal Oak website outlines a deal that seems to say the chief will receive his full pension of around $90,000 per year in an incentive program account, while being hired at $120,000.

O’Donohue’s proposed new role wouldn’t require creating a new position. Johnson’s appeal notes that the city cut the assistant city manager position to save money several years ago, and makes a point that the position is a vital one. What we wonder is, why would you want one person spread across two positions this important?

A call this morning seeking comment from Johnson wasn’t returned before this blog was posted, so we’re not sure exactly what’s what, but the agenda for tonight’s meeting online includes a letter outlining the proposal, including much florid praise for O’Donohue, and arguments that the deal will actually save money for the city in the long run.

But not everybody believes this to be the best allocation of funds. In fact, some are crying foul.

Grumbles include that Royal Oak, which only recently passed a significant public safety millage, seems to be a rather small community for such a high pay grade.

And despite that injection of new funds, all isn’t well at the city’s fire department. For more than a year, there have been complaints that the department’s antiquated Plectron Alert System isn’t functioning properly. They say that no repairs or replacement is in sight.

According to documents obtained by Metro Times under a Freedom of Information Act Request, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 431 filed grievances as early as January that the city “has failed to maintain a working fire station alerting system at all of its fire stations,” a violation of the union’s contract with the city. Sources within the fire department say that, for more than a year, the system will sound an alert tone in the city’s downtown firehouse, Station 2, but fire department staff cannot use the system to communicate with dispatch. Instead, they rely on radios and cell phones to communicate.

In the meantime, despite that generous public safety millage, fire department sources tell us they know of no real plan for the alert system to be replaced or repaired. In fact, as a bit of bleak humor, the staff have attached tin cans coated in red paint with strings and strung them up in the firehouse with the label “Plectron.”

But the levity ends there. One source within the department told us, “My big concern is this: They went out and asked the citizens in the community for this millage to shore up police and fire, and we as a group of firefighters went out and said this was the best thing for the community. And what they’ve done is use a lot of money for a lot of other stuff. … That money has just been spread all over. And they’re going to have to ask for a renewal on this millage. And if they run the thing like this, I think they might have a hard time getting it [renewed] because people are going to be pissed … because they voted for this money to be spent for a specific purpose. And it’s not.” 

About The Author

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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