Genoa officers claim hostile work environment
The Ottawa County sheriff is recommending Genoa village officials hire a special investigator immediately to look into allegations of a hostile work environment leveled by three village police officers against Chief Randy Hill.
The officers – Sgt. Todd Mocniak, Kevin Miller, and Mike Woods - recently gave several pages of written complaints and issues regarding Chief Hill to councilman Eric Hise.
The councilman then asked Sheriff Robert Bratton for his opinion on the seriousness of the complaints, Bratton said.
“They need a special investigator to review all their issues to be fair,” Bratton said after turning over his response to Hise on March 3. “They need to act immediately. We don’t know what the chief’s response will be to this.”
Chief Hill said he hasn’t seen the documents and declined to comment.
Sheriff Bratton emphasized he is not stating a hostile environment exists in the village department. However, once “these words are used,” action needs to be taken quickly, the sheriff said.
“There needs to be an investigation immediately conducted to find out the validity and if there is or is not this type of situation,” Bratton wrote in his response.
If left alone, the sheriff insists, this could be taken out of the hands of Genoa officials and decisions will be made in a courtroom.
According to Bratton, the officers outlined a number of things they saw as problems, including a lack of communication, poor leadership, neglect of duty, and misfeasance.
Officers addressed issues ranging from how the chief writes them up by e-mail constantly and his handling of the bike patrol to where he allegedly lunches outside of village limits.
“Some of the issues are management issues. If the chief chooses to give a write-up by e-mail and not talk to the person, that’s his right,” Bratton wrote. Handling of the bicycle patrol also falls under the chief’s discretion.
Yet, other complaints regarding possible misconduct and harassment need to be probed more, his response states.
Officers claim Hill’s barrage of write-ups for the handling of cases to grammar in their reports are some of the main problems.
A verbal public records request was made Friday to four village officials for copies of the complaints as well as the sheriff’s report.
Hise deferred the request to Mayor Mark Williams.
Williams said he had only heard rumors about the complaints but had not received any formal information. As a result, he said he could not comment on the issue or make any public records determination. He referred the request back to Hise.
The village records commissioner, Charles Brinkman, as well as village solicitor, Cindy Smith, also said they could not make a determination on public records because they had not seen the paperwork either.
Written requests for the public documents were given Monday to both the Genoa administration and the sheriff. Smith’s determination on the public records request would not likely come until Wednesday, she said on Friday afternoon.
Bratton honored his request Monday morning.
Officers say they have already talked to attorneys and prosecutors about the daily stresses and pressures they face under Hill’s leadership, according to their letters.
“My officers and I feel like we have to walk on eggshells everyday, not knowing if we are going to receive another write-up or get suspended or worse, get fired and no longer have a job,” Mocniak wrote in his letter.
The chief doesn’t lead by example either, they allege. He institutes rules such as keeping a shift log and proper handling of found property but doesn’t follow them, the officers wrote.
The officers and chief also conflict over how charges and citations are issued, their complaints show.
The chief often sends e-mails to them about how he thinks they should have handled cases and enforcement opportunities he believed they botched.
Contained in the report was an e-mail from the chief citing poor police work in three specific cases, including a break-in and suspicious people reported at a village park.
It ended: “Bottom line, if you want to come here and play police officer, drive around and waste gas just to get a paycheck, then find another line of work. You will be replaced with a police officer that is proactive, willing to enforce the law equally and with due justice. There is no room for blatant incompetence.”
The department upheaval comes at a turbulent time in the village.
The past year has been littered with accusations of department harassment, excessive ticketing complaints, and other issues.
Hise himself filed a court complaint in 2008 against the chief, mayor, and officer Mark Steinman. The owner of the Bharmacy, 621 Main Street, Hise alleged the police were harassing him and his business and causing him to lose customers. In March, 2009, Hise’s attorney filed for a voluntary dismissal of the case.
Bratton noted the seriousness of the officers’ letters he reviewed.
“I told them to please act responsibly and do something fast,” the sheriff said. “All I know is they better do something. This has the makings of a crash.”