By Rosemary K. Otzman
On Tuesday, the Van Buren Township Board of Trustees voted 5-2 to approve Supervisor Linda Combs’ appointment of interim Public Safety Director Gregory Laurain as full-fledged Public Safety Director.
Voting no were Trustees Brenda McClanahan and Reggie Miller. Trustee McClanahan read a prepared statement saying this was not about Laurain, but about the process used to select a new public safety director.
She said she was in favor of posting the position and accepting resumes and interviewing before the selection is made. She also said it was an unsound practice to rewrite the job description to suit the candidate, as they have done for Laurain, substituting experience for education.
Laurain does not have a bachelor’s degree and McClanahan criticized the township for not promoting college degrees with an established program.
She said the process in the past was done by elected officials who were mostly uneducated.
Trustee Miller said she agreed with many of McClanahan’s points and disagreed with some. She said her problem was the amount of money being paid.
“We should be looking at this budget hard,” Miller said, adding Laurain was a “fine, upstanding man who’s done an upstanding job. It’s about dollars.”
Captain Laurain, 54, has been serving as Public Safety Director since just after Carl McClanahan resigned on Jan. 25. Laurain was first hired as a VBT police officer in the fall of 1982, having started as a Reserve officer in 1981.
Under the terms of the at-will position, Laurain will get a base wage of $97,000. As captain, he earned $104,807.87 base wage in 2012 and received total compensation of $136,348.32, not counting the police vehicle he drove that included gas, insurance, and maintenance.
Director Carl McClanahan (husband of Trustee McClanahan) earned $92,818.29 base pay in 2012 and received total compensation of $104,710.44, not counting his vehicle.
In a June 26 seven-page memo to the board, Supervisor Combs said Laurain had numerous considerations to confront “including a freezing of his MERS pension. Additionally, although fully vested, he would forego a 2.5 multiplier and would cap his salary at 76%, instead of the 80% he would have received if he waited to retire as captain.”
Because Laurain continued to be paid as a captain since January, and the township didn’t pay a Public Safety Director wage to anyone, Combs said the township had more flexibility to set Laurain’s salary at $97,000.
The township board went into closed-door session on Monday after its work/study meeting. The Michigan Open Meetings Act section referred to as allowing this closed-door session was MCL 15.268, Sec. 8 (f) which refers to a closed-door session if requested by the applicant for a public job for the board to review the application. The law states that all interviews for such public jobs need to be in public.
Combs said Laurain had requested the closed-door session, but was not present for the session.
Resident John Delaney said on Tuesday that he has filed an Open Meetings Act violation against the board since, he said, board members did not have a black and white copy of Laurain’s resume in hand at that meeting, as required by the Act.
Laurain attended special FBI training offered in Quantico, VA, after being nominated for the honor by former Public Safety Director Christopher Elg.
Laurain has been a member of the Western Wayne County Special Operations Team (SWAT) for the past 26 years and commander for the past 10 years. He also was a leader of the VBT Police Honor Guard, which was formed in 2006 and recently returned from a presentation in Washington, D.C.
Laurain served as interim public safety director, alongside now retired Ken Brooks, in the periods between the terms of Director Mark Perkins, Director Christopher Elg, Director Jerry Champagne, and this year Director McClanahan, who was appointed to the position in 2009 on a 4-3 vote.
On Nov. 11, 2009, Laurain and three other police officers (Ken Brooks, Dennis Brooks, and Ken Floro) filed a civil rights law suit against the township in federal district court, claiming they were not named public safety director to fill the vacancy after Jerry Champagne was fired because they are white and Supervisor Paul White wanted an African-American
in the post.
The suit by the four claimed each of the four officers sustained “a loss of earnings, earning capacity and fringe benefits and has suffered mental anguish, physical and emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment and loss of professional reputation.”
Former Director Champagne also had sued after he was fired, on a similar claim that Supervisor White wanted a black man in his post. In March of 2010 Champagne got a settlement of $475,500.
On Jan. 19, 2011, Laurain and the other three VBT police officers accepted $25,000 each as out-of-court settlements of their civil rights claims. Of that the township paid its $75,000 deductible and its insurance company, MMRMA, paid the balance of $25,000.
Delaney said a person who wanted to apply for the public safety position now has indicated he, too, will file a lawsuit against the township, as the others have in the past.
By Rosemary K. Otzman