Walker public safety shakeup moving foward

The Walker City Commission's Public Safety Committee votes to move ahead with reorganization plan. (Oct. 6, 2015)

WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — A plan to return the City of Walker to a more traditional public safety management structure continues to move forward.

Tuesday, the Walker City Commission Police/Fire Subcommittee voted to begin talks that will help determine specific duties and roles of the new fire and police chiefs. The public safety director will have a new job description, as well.

Under the plan, Catherine Garcia-Lindstrom — Walker’s police chief and since 2010 its public safety director in charge of both police and fire — would take on more of a big-picture role. Strategic planning, checking out new technology and writing grants applications would be some of her new duties. The city’s current deputy police and fire chief would be promoted to chief of the respective departments. Both would report to the city manager, not the public safety director.

The city manager the restructuring is part of a larger plan to create a smoother transition as department heads get ready to retire.

“Succession within the Public Safety Department was also looked at and discussed with the director and both deputy directors,” Walker City Manager Darrel Schmalzel said.

But Garcia-Lindstrom, who was at Tuesday’s meeting, said in a Sept. 30 email to commissioners members she has no intentions to retire and that she does not support the reorganization plan. Add to that her frustration over a Monday letter from the Walker police union questioning her leadership.

After Tuesday’s vote was taken, the chief pointed her frustration not at the subcommittee and the union, but instead at reporters.

“Every time the media shows up and every time there’s another rumor that’s out there, it’s got a life of its own,” Garcia-Lindstrom told reporters. “So at this point, that’s pretty much all I’m going to say because it doesn’t make it better. It seems to only make it worse.”

The head of the Police/Fire Subcommittee said the changes aren’t about Garcia-Lindstrom’s job performance — which the city’s mayor has also said. Walker Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Deschaine said she is “doing a fantastic job.”

“At the same time, we need to move forward. And there may be some resistance there. But I think at the end of the day, we’ll be in a better place. We would hope she’s part of that,” Deschaine said.

He claims the changes won’t lead to anyone’s taxes being raised.

But is the plan an efficient use of the dollars taxpayers are already giving the city?

Deschaine said he doesn’t think the restructuring will have a dramatic effect in terms of dollars and cents because the roles and responsibilities within the police and fire departments wouldn’t change.

“It’s all who’s actually in charge of executing those,” he said. “So at this point in time, we haven’t had any discussion about pay raises or how it affects our budget, which I think will be very minimal.”

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