Police chief fired amidst criminal investigation.

January 11, 2016

Shelby village councilBy Allison Scarbrough. OCP Editor.

SHELBY — After deliberating for nearly one and half hours in closed session, the Shelby Village Council voted 5-1 to immediately terminate Shelby Police Chief Robert Wilson from his employment Monday night, Jan. 11, in the Shelby High School auditorium.

An internal investigation revealed that Wilson had been doing salvage vehicle inspections without notifying the village and without paying the village the money from the inspections, Village Administrator Chelsea Stratil said. A criminal investigation into the matter is being conducted by the Michigan State Police, said Village President Paul Inglis.

Councilman Ben Michalko cast the “no” vote, and councilwoman Sharita Prowant abstained.

Heated discussion followed the vote on the frigid, snowy evening.

“You guys are dead wrong when you say he broke the law,” said former Oceana County Prosecutor Terry Shaw, who is a Shelby resident.

“All this was done in secret,” said Shaw, stating that the council violated the Open Meetings Act by calling a closed session. “I totally disagree with your analysis.”

Wilson was not in attendance, although he was invited to attend the meeting, Inglis said. “Bob was contacted to attend, and he’s not here,” he said.

Wilson’s investigation was sparked after Stratil received “an anonymous complaint,” Inglis said.

Village Attorney John Schrier recommended that the council go into closed session to review his firm’s written opinion regarding Wilson’s internal investigation. Councilman Andy Near made a motion, seconded by councilman Dan Zaverl to go into closed session. The motion passed 6–1, with Prowant casting the lone “no” vote. The council went to the high school library to discuss Schrier’s opinion, while the audience waited in the auditorium.

Before going into closed session, Sgt. Roger “Chuck” Schultz of the Shelby Police Department stated that Wilson was never notified why he was suspended. Stratil disputed that statement, stating that Wilson was given an explanation.

It was publicly announced by the village, Dec. 28, that Wilson was suspended from his job without pay pending an internal investigation, and Police Officer Terry TenBrink was named “acting chief” in the meantime.

The decision to suspend Wilson was made by the village administrator, and the village council unanimously agreed, Inglis said. “She contacted each council member individually, and they agreed.”

Wilson was forced to resign as chief in 2007 but was then re-hired by a different village council about two years later. Tim French was hired as police chief in October of 2007 and resigned in December of 2008.

Councilman Dan Zaverl made the motion to terminate Wilson, and councilman William Harris seconded it.

“We reviewed a tremendous amount of information,” Michalko said. “None of us take this lightly. We were deliberate.”

“There is no question that this it is a sensitive issue,” Inglis said.

Shelby Officer Ralph Briese defended Wilson, stating that he was “moonlighting” when he conducted the inspections when he was off duty. “He’s working for the state,” he said.

“He’s employed by the village of Shelby,” Stratil responded.

The money collected from the inspections is required to go through the village coffers, Inglis said. “There is no accounting of those funds, which is our biggest concern.”

“What is the big rush to judgment?” asked former councilwoman Paula Michalko, adding that the council should wait to make a decision after the criminal investigation is complete. “The man has worked for us for 30 some years. We have a reputation that we treat people like garbage.”

The village requested that Wilson provide documents of approximately 700 inspections that he conducted, and he never supplied them, Inglis said.

“I disagree with what has happened,” Prowant said. Wilson should remain suspended until the state police is done with its investigation, she added.

Harris said he voted for termination, because Wilson was not putting in “an honest day’s work.” Harris specifically cited Oct 29 when Wilson claimed that he worked eight hours for the village, but then clocked four hours of inspections in Traverse City and six hours of inspections in Ravenna.

Wilson’s yearly salary was $48,000, Inglis said.

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