Genoa schools: Board, police differed on resource officer hiring

Larry Limpf

News Editor

When the Genoa school district contracted for a School Resource Officer with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, the announcement was observed on the district Facebook page with an enthusiastic post last year on Dec. 23.
Marc Nye, a veteran of the patrol division of the sheriff’s office and a former K-9 unit handler, was welcomed in the post that included photos of him along with the sheriff and members of the school board.
But the minutes of the Jan. 23 meeting of the Clay Township trustees indicate the agreement with the sheriff’s office apparently strained the working relationship between school officials and the township police department.
School superintendent Mike Ferguson attended the meeting with two members of the Genoa school board, Keith Traver and Jeff Trainer, and spoke about the process employed to interview candidates and hire someone for the position.
Their intent, according to the minutes, was to conduct the interview process and rely on a list of candidates with input from Terry Mitchell, chief of the Clay Township Police Department.
The school district buildings sit on a campus in Clay Township along Genoa-Clay Center Road near the intersection with Moline-Martin Road. The school district itself encompasses Clay and Allen townships and the villages of Genoa and Clay Center.
One person from the township department who was interviewed “didn’t have the chief’s blessing,” according to the meeting minutes, and when the school board hired someone from the sheriff’s office the township police department cut its presence on the campus and in school buildings, the school officials claimed.
The minutes quote Chief Mitchell as saying he tried to negotiate for a five-year SRO agreement between his department and the schools because the police department would have had to “absorb” the SRO when the agreement expired and it would be easier to do so with a longer agreement.
“Chief said he told Mike Ferguson that if you go outside the township, it’s all you, not us,” the minutes say. “Chief doesn’t want two departments pitted against each other.”
The 4-year SRO agreement between the sheriff’s office and school district went into effect Jan. 1 of this year and expires Dec. 31, 2026.
The pay is $66,705 annually plus $25,000 in benefits such as contributions to the Public Employees Retirement System, health insurance, and worker’s compensation. The sheriff’s office will invoice the school district quarterly for payment.
The SRO duties include patrolling the school grounds and “engaging in and providing other police services as may be required under the circumstances,” according to the agreement, which includes a provision the officer may have to occasionally leave the school grounds for emergencies.
Also, “the sheriff agrees that the SRO will attend extra-curricular functions associated with Genoa schools as his availability allows,” the agreement says. “The expectation is that a non-specific number of events will be attended by the SRO.”
The school officials at the trustees meeting acknowledged school staff members have had a good relationship with Chief Mitchell.
In the past, he has conducted Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate training and other programs at the schools.
At the meeting, however, he was critical of the board and administration for not committing to a longer term agreement with his department for an SRO.
In response to questions from The Press, the chief last week said his department has never had a policy or agreement with the schools regarding patrolling school grounds or having an officer in the buildings.
“Officers patrolled or stopped if time and calls for service allowed. This will continue the same as it always has,” the chief said. His department will also continue to monitor school bus radio traffic.
The hiring of an SRO from the sheriff’s department could also impact the presence of township officers at athletic events.
A Jan. 5 email from Capt. David Dunn of the township department to Matt Routson, the school district athletic director, says that with the schools “hiring an SRO from another department, it has been discussed that we will finish out the remainder of the regular season basketball games. Along with that if we do not have any officers available or a scheduling conflict for the remainder of the games you may want to talk with your SRO to fill those spots.”
Routson responded Jan. 9 with an email that thanks Capt. Dunn and says he appreciates the department finishing out the season.
Chief Mitchell said the school system is currently paying $85 per officer to attend athletic events and there hasn’t been an adjustment in pay for eight years.
“The school asks for and receives at least one police cruiser at every event; they do not reimburse the township nor pay additional for the cruiser. A proposal was given to the school for $150 per officer, per game. They replied with $100. We replied that $15 (increase) isn’t enough. They haven’t responded,” the chief said. “We no longer have part-time officers and we are short staffed with scheduling conflicts. We suggested to the school at the trustee meeting of Jan. 23 that they should consider using their SRO at the games to fill at least one spot at the events.”
Superintendent Ferguson declined comment for this story.
The township trustees were not involved in the SRO matter, Chad Gargas, a trustee, said during the meeting.
The township police officer who interviewed for the SRO position was later fired for allegations of theft and the case was referred to the Ottawa County prosecutor’s office, according to the minutes quoting Chief Mitchell.


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