Council discussion about police complaints dissolves into argument



BURTON — Discussion during the Aug. 17 city council meeting began as a request by two members about receiving reports from the administration regarding complaints against police officers but dissolved into an argument over comments made on Facebook about a different topic.

City Council President Steve Heffner and Councilman Vaughn Smith asked Mayor Duane Haskins to provide them with monthly reports detailing any complaints made against Burton police officers, something Heffner had brought up earlier in the summer.

He also asked the reports be made available to any council member who requested it.

“A copy of all written complaints made by residents and non-residents of the city of Burton against any police officer, sergeant, lieutenant, chief, administrator or any other employee working at the police department to the city of Burton on a monthly basis,” said Heffner, describing the information he and Smith were requesting.

Councilman Danny Wells asked why Heffner and Smith wanted the information, to which both men replied they wanted to know so they were kept informed of any potential problems.

“What about the fire department?” Wells asked.

“I didn’t ask for that,” replied Heffner. “I just asked for the police department.”

“So, you’re specifically looking for the police?” asked Wells.

“Yes. With today’s climate I’d like to know what’s going on,” said Heffner. “I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but I just want to be aware of what’s going on in the city.”

Smith said he wanted the reports because when he goes through the city’s legal bills and sees the same employees names on there, he wants to know why so if he sees a potential problem developing with an individual, it can be brought to the attention of the administration.

“When I see the same name up there, I’m going to ask a question. Is there is a problem here you should be looking at it a little bit more thoroughly?” said Smith. “I don’t know how often that will happen, but I don’t want there to be any surprises.”

Wells said he did not want to be given the same reports and questioned the council’s place in matters it has no power over.

“I’m staying out of that,” said Wells. “That’s administrative as far as I’m concerned.”

Heffner said the information he was requesting is public record available to anyone. Residents can obtain the same information by filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the city.

Wells said he thinks the city council should stay out of administrative business and leave the day-to-day operations of the city and police department to the mayor and police chief.

“You guys have a different idea about what this job entails than I do, and I’ve been here for a little while. There’s an administration, there’s a city council,” said Wells. “I think we’d be better off trying to find a way to get Culver’s to come to Burton, rather than a mile up the road in Davison Township. They’re building out up there, we’re losing businesses left and right. We should be more susceptible to trying to figure that out how we can make that happen here.”

Heffner replied, “Well guess what? We’re doing that too. It’s called multi-tasking.”

Council Vice President Greg Fenner asked if Heffner and Smith were also requesting the names of the people who are accusing Burton police officers of wrongdoing

“Or do you just want the officers who are getting accused?” asked Fenner. “Because if you’re going to look for trends, look for those trends too. I’m sure there are serial complainers out there.”

Heffner said he just wants to see the complaints, adding he understands there’s not much the council can do with such information, but said if he sees a trend he can take the information to the mayor and chief and ask them if they are aware of the problem and what their plan is for dealing with it.

Fenner said he was aligned with Wells on the matter, adding it’s the mayor’s job to look into the information Heffner was requesting.

“Our job is, like he said, why didn’t (Culvers) come to Belsay Road?” said Fenner. “Why did they go to Irish Road? Especially when we have a group hired to draw those companies into our city. And we’re losing out on that and I don’t know why that is.”

Heffner said Culver’s made their decision before the city hired a consulting firm last year to help attract businesses to the Burton area, but then he questioned why the conversation had shifted from obtaining copies of police complaints to the location of Culver’s restaurant.

“Why (are we) talking about it in the same conversation about the police?” said Heffner. “They’re not the same.”

“I know they’re not the same,” said Wells. “I don’t think we need to do one, I think we need to do more of the other.”

“We’re not doing one…me and Vaughn’s doing one,” said Heffner. “You’ve opted out of the complaints. So, what’s the big deal?”

Wells said he didn’t think the reports were any of the council’s business and getting involved could place the city in a situation where it could be sued.

At that point, Heffner said he was tired of Wells being “so negative about everything” and went on to criticize him for comments he made about Haskins and the rest of the council on Facebook recently.

Heffner said Wells posted on Facebook that the mayor and council were up to “political schemes” when they all pitched in their own money to offer a gift card raffle to people on the city’s south side who had not yet turned in their 2020 Census.

“We all pitched in $100 trying to do good for the city, and I’ll be damned if on Facebook you didn’t call it a scheme,” said Heffner.

“I don’t think we should pay people for bad behavior,” said Wells. “Because if you read the rest of the comments on there, people said ‘where’s our money? We did the right thing and you guys didn’t give us anything’.”

Heffner then questioned if Wells was accusing residents of bad behavior because some of them hadn’t filled out their Census form yet?

“No, I said you are supporting bad behavior by giving people money to do something they should do on their own,” said Wells.

Heffner told Wells he and the rest of the council had only the best interests of the city at heart when they offered the gift card raffle up to residents. The city has run a strong campaign to encourage residents to complete and return their 2020 Census because it could mean a considerable amount of federal money for the city.

“We didn’t use your money; it was our money. We didn’t use taxpayer money; we used our money,” said Heffner. “I could have spent that money taking my wife out to dinner, I could have bought my grandbaby something, but I spent it to better my city. And I have you on Facebook, trashing me for it. Shame on you Mr. Wells, shame on you!”

Heffner then adjourned the meeting, but arguing continued on in council chambers, with Heffner referring to people, who were complaining they didn’t get paid to respond to the Census, as “whiners”, while Wells denied any direct attack on Heffner on social media.