By Sue Moore
“I’m embarrassed this happened under my watch,” said Vicksburg Village President Bill Adams, in response to an accusatory letter sent by Denny Olson to the Village Council dealing with several issues.
Adams walked the Council through each point that Olson raised in his April 15 letter to clear up what he called misperceptions. He apologized again, saying he has taken steps to correct any actions that might have been misinterpreted and that this is a good time to start anew to make the village the “best of the best.”
Olson’s letter contended that Adams mistreated Fire Chief Tracy McMillan of the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority through his actions while on the authority’s board. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Adams said, adding that the chief would agree with him. “We found that proper procedures were not being followed at the Authority, so we brought in the top commanders such as Tracy and his son, Branden McMillan, the captain at the Schoolcraft station, to discuss problems.
“I stressed the importance of working together as a team from the top down. Behavior started to change. Then we brought in CPSM, a consulting group to focus on policies and procedures, training and education, all key metrics to 911 calls and response times. We appointed an advisory committee to help the chief be successful, by starting to look at the most important things that are vital to the community. The chief has gone through a lot of trauma in his position, but I feel he is a valuable asset to the community going forward. I would like to have us work together to find out what more we could do, such as a scholarship program for cadet Rangers and the recruitment of firefighters.”
Also mentioned in the letter by Olson were financial losses to the village by giving away free golf at Angels Crossing, the village-owned golf course. Adams said this was corrected with new policies implemented in 2016, although free golf to those who invested in the original construction of the golf course happened long before he became village president.
The most effusive apology from Adams was in response to an accusation about a private party, a “Speakeasy” at which free alcohol was paid for by the village and prizes were awarded to wives of village council members. “This too is not true,” Adams said although he took the blame for the incident that was reported by Channel 3. The station described it as an “expose” but didn’t really prove anything, according to Adams. “Still, I should have exercised more oversight. The Speakeasy was planned as a kickoff to the Vision Campaign to raise awareness. We didn’t expect a lot of money coming in but most of those attending did contribute later on during the campaign. We have instituted new policies to head off anything like this ever happening again.”
“There were a lot more people involved than just me on the Speakeasy,” Adams said after the meeting. “I could have had better oversight but was also three levels down in the decision making. Many of those who were below me still say nothing wrong was done. My apology was for not having better oversight of what others were doing.”
Olson questioned free chairs given by Adams to two local start-up businesses. Adams said, “I was under the impression they were free when I offered them, but found out later that they weren’t free, and by that time, they were sitting in the shops in the village. I’ve taken steps to correct these actions and am asking to be forgiven for my errors and mistakes.”
Trustee Gail Reisterer thanked Adams for his statement and emphasized that “We are trying to go forward now as a team. We will need a little more time to change things, but they will be changed.” Trustee James Earl, said “It will be a new age in Vicksburg as we are not going to let speculation and rumor go on in the village.”
DDA Boundaries Revisited
In other business, Village Manager Jim Mallery reported to the Council on expansion of the Downtown Development Authority’s boundaries in December of 2014. The request was to assess the financial cost to the village’s general fund budget. This was in response to a request of several members of the Council who asked Mallery to research the impact of this decision. The DDA executive board is willing to look further at the new boundaries. The Council directed Mallery to join in further talks with the DDA and come back with a recommendation. He reported that for 2017 the total Tax Increment Financing collected by the DDA, levied on improvements to properties within the authority, will amount to $32,758.37.
Pension Plans Get a Make Over
“The Village is in the hole on its pension plan funding,” according to Mallery. At its earlier meeting in April, he proposed scrapping the current defined-benefit plan for employees starting May 1 and after, substituting a defined-contribution plan. With the defined benefit plan, the village pays costs of pension and benefits. With a defined-contribution plan, the village will set aside pre-tax dollars for employees to make their own investment decisions. The village would be gaining more control over the amount of money going into the plan. Mallery chose to accept such a plan when he was hired on July 1, 2016.