Scott Boling was officially named the Three Rivers Police Department’s chief of police following a 5-1 confirmation vote by the Three Rivers City Commission Tuesday.
Mayor Tom Lowry and Commissioners Pat Dane, Daryl Griffith, Alison Haigh and Carolyn McNary voted in favor of Boling’s appointment, while Commissioner Torrey Brown voted against the hire, citing a lack of information leading up to the vote. Commissioner Chris Abel was unable to attend the meeting.
Boling succeeds longtime Police Chief Tom Bringman who retired in November after 47 1/2 years with the department, and 14 1/2 as chief. Boling is a Marine Corps veteran with 25 years of law enforcement experience and 22 years of firefighter and medical first responder experience. He spent the majority of his career with the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety before retiring in 2020, and taking the position of Village of Schoolcraft police chief.
“I just want to thank you very much for this opportunity, I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone better, and also get to know the people of Three Rivers better,” Boling said in a short address to the commission.
“As was mentioned a couple of times, I think being interactive with the community, especially in law enforcement these days, the only way you’re gonna be truly effective in the field is to have interaction with people in the community. The more and more I learn about the community of Three Rivers, and talk to more and more people, the more I’m impressed because it is a community that truly cares.”
The hiring process
During the public comment portion of Boling’s confirmation vote, Watershed Voice addressed the commission concerning the hiring process, and what we believe to be a clear conflict of interest on the part of City Manager Joe Bippus in the search for Three Rivers’ next police chief.
I made the following statement to the commission Tuesday (which can also be heard in the video below):
“First, I would like to congratulate Chief Boling and welcome him to Three Rivers. What I am about to say is regarding the hiring process, and is in no way a criticism of Mr. Boling or his qualifications. He looks like a super hire.
“The city commission is tasked with confirming the hire of Three Rivers’ next police chief, and rightfully so, the voters of Three Rivers entrusted you with that authority the moment they cast their ballots. With that said, it surprises me that given you have final say in this matter that the commission wasn’t represented on the hiring panel. How can the commission make an informed decision without having vetted and spoken with each candidate?
“Also, as all of you are aware, Mr. Bippus has been an employee of the Schoolcraft Police Department since 2018 and as of Monday afternoon when I called the Schoolcraft PD, he still was. As Mr. Boling has been Schoolcraft’s chief of police since 2020, I think this presents a clear conflict of interest for Mr. Bippus, and he should have recused himself from the process the moment Mr. Boling applied for the position.
“So while it’s obviously too late for that, I would ask the commission to consider making changes to the hiring process to ensure the commission and the voters of Three Rivers are represented the next time a position of this magnitude is being filled. Our last chief served this city for 47 1/2 years, 14 1/2 as chief, and most importantly, all of that time as a community leader. Those are pretty big shoes to fill, and the commission has a responsibility to know exactly who’s filling them. Thank you.”
Bippus, who has worked with Boling at the Schoolcraft Police Department since 2020 and been a patrol officer for the department since 2018, said the hiring process included several leaders from around the area like County Administrator Teresa Doehring, Three Rivers resident and Library Board Vice President Mike Fleckenstein, Three Rivers School Board President Erin Nowak, and would have included Pastor Tony Bennett but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was unable to sit on the hiring panel.
“Following that process, several of you (city commissioners) did meet with (Boling),” Bippus said. “Also part of that process was having the department heads who weren’t on vacation or off at the time. Each candidate spent 45 minutes in an interview style conversation, so we did get lots of input. And I understand that me working in Schoolcraft may seem odd to some folks but what it really did was allow me an opportunity to see his style, his knowledge, his ability, and kind of just do my own informal evaluation. If I didn’t think he was capable, knowledgable or has the skillset, if I didn’t think the community was going to love him and his family he wouldn’t be sitting here.”
Bippus added that he has the authority to make a recommendation to the commission per the city charter, and like most things that come before the commission, he did the “background work” just as he and city staff do for the commission on a regular basis.
Griffith said he was “fine with the process,” and called Bippus’ prior working relationship with Boling a “luxury most employers don’t get,” and “says even more to me that (Boling) is the right person.” Dane said, “The fact that Joe worked with him one-on-one is a good thing,” while Lowry said Bippus can choose the best candidate according to the city charter, and he trusts “Joe’s choice.” McNary said she was impressed with Boling after speaking with him, and while he “came to us through Joe,” Boling brought many interesting ideas to the table and “didn’t try to be a cookie cutter version of the former chief” when she spoke with him.
Brown expressed concerns over the little information he was given prior to the vote, as well as “the lack of African American representation” on the hiring panel. Brown said while Pastor Bennett may not have been available due to COVID-19, there are several black leaders in the community who could have filled in, including Brown himself.
“This town is pretty diverse, and my concern with that is, on the panel there was no African American representation,” Brown said. “And I keep hearing you saying Pastor Bennett was ill, had COVID that day, which is understandable. But are there no other African Americans you know that are leaders in this community?”
Bippus responded, “No, there are several but it was the morning of, I was sitting with the panel waiting to get going and I got the text that (Pastor Bennett) was unable to make it. But Carolyn (McNary), sitting next to you, basically conducted a second interview.”
The original panel met on November 4 of this year, and conducted interviews with candidates on November 29. Brown was elected on Tuesday, November 2, and was sworn in on Monday, November 8 but wasn’t contacted about the process until Friday, December 5, the day the decision was announced.
“I’ve been a community leader in this town for the past two years, and you have my phone number,” Brown said. “So even before I was a commissioner, I didn’t get a call. The election was on (November 2), so when you had the panel on (November 4), I was (commissioner-elect), as the results came out on the fourth. So for you to say I was ‘late to the party’ when you contacted (other commissioners), you knew I was a commissioner, so I don’t understand the ‘late to the party’ part.”
Bippus said, “I was hoping to talk to you when I talked to them (at the commission’s last meeting when Brown was absent) but you’re right, I was going through my process, and I should have called you earlier.”
Brown told Boling he “didn’t know him” and “has nothing against (Boling) at all,” but Brown was not able to do his research into the new police chief “with people I do know from Schoolcraft” because of how late he was notified.
“My concern is, if I would have known when (other commissioners knew) or even before they met with you, I would have been able to contact some people. And if I would have known earlier that I had a chance to have a sit-down meeting with you, I would have liked to have done that,” Brown said.
“I got the information on Friday. I’m a teacher in Constantine and I’m also the freshman basketball coach at Constantine. So Saturday is the only day I get to spend with my family. Sunday I had basketball practice, Monday I had teaching and then we had a game at 5:30 p.m. I’m not going to ask you to come out at 9 p.m. to come meet with me for something I have to vote on the next day. That’s not fair to you, that’s not fair to me. Does that make sense to you? I think you could be an amazing person, and I try not to listen to what other people say (about you) but I do hear them, and I would have liked to meet with you to see what kind of person you are because this is something huge for this community. The last person who was here, was here for 47 years.”
Brown proceeded to ask Bippus if there no person within the department Bippus felt was qualified for the position. Bippus said the city had two internal applicants who are “very good people, sharp, I like them” but he “did not think they were prepared or ready to take on this role, and what needs to be done within this police department.”
Brown turned his attention back to Boling, stating he hopes “(Boling does) an amazing job with this city and help us to continue to grow.”
“But I also have to be a voice of the people, who I’ve been speaking with, that’s my job,” Brown said. “I’m not up here to give my personal opinion, I’m up here to represent the entire City of Three Rivers. And because of that fact, no offense to you but me personally, I cannot approve of you being the chief of police. That doesn’t mean I don’t think you’ll do a great job, that just means I don’t have enough information to make that decision.”
Alek Haak-Frost is executive editor of Watershed Voice.