Law enforcement, city officials reflect on vice mayor's facebook post
In Paul Lauria's eyes, police and politics don't mix.
After news circulated Jan. 18 about a controversial Facebook post shared by Mount Pleasant Vice Mayor Amy Perschbacher, the public safety director and pulic chief said he talked about it with officers.
Perschbacher's post was an image of a "Thin Blue Line" flag. The blue line was being peeled back to reveal a Nazi swastika. Perschbacher said the post was provided "without context" and has since provided a public apology and removed the post.
"I don't think you can see a Nazi flag and not have emotion or comments about it," Lauria said. “What it comes down to for the officers is this: The post was made and we have two ways we can respond. We can either respond negatively to it and cause division or uproar.
"Or we can look at it, talk about it, evaluate it and move on. That's what we did."
Mount Pleasant City Commissioners discussed the post at their Jan. 25 meeting. They received comments from the members of Mount Pleasant and Central Michigan University.
At the commission's Feb. 8 meeting, a resolution to censure Vice Mayor Amy Perschbacher was defeated in a 4-2 vote. Commissioners Lori Gillis and Petro Tolas voted in favor of the resolution.
Perschbacher's Attorney, Dustyn Coontz, defended her during the public comment section of the meeting.
"To censure her is to censor her," Coontz said. "If you disagree with what that Facebook (post) says or what you think it says, the remedy is not to punish her and her expression of speech."
Lauria was present at both meetings as a staff member. He did not comment on behalf of the department and doesn't plan to.
"The post is what it is. That doesn't mean that it doesn't create emotions or distractions but we talked about it and we decided as a division 'let's continue to move forward, let the politics be the politics,'" Lauria said. "We're going to continue to go out and serve the public."
The issue isn't over, however. There's an ongoing conversation about the divide among the city commissioners.
Tolas expressed outrage with the commision at the Feb. 8 meeting; calling the vote not to censure an "embarrassment." He cited the ethics ordinance (30.16 section 3, item "e") that states an official shall not interfere with the city's administrative functions as evidence for censure.
Tolas argues the commission's process didn't follow traditional procedure to begin with.
"That meeting was totally out of control; the mayor couldn't control it. People were addressing certain commissioners by name which isn't allowed," Tolas said. "It turned out into a three-ring political circus."
The censure resolution that was voted down included other actions, including a statement that expressed the commission's support of local law enforcement and a commitment to developing a policy for social media use.
Before a final vote on the resolution was made, Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Joseph motioned to strike these paragraphs.
Tolas said he intends to work toward getting the other resolutions passed at future meetings.
Joseph said he was against Perschbacher's post and the resolution to censure her.
"I thought that it was in poor taste, and I thought that it lacked the careful messaging to really convey what she was trying to say," Joseph said. "I can separate the two issues of supporting our local police officers and partner agencies while also saying, 'Yes, I don't like this Facebook post.' I think it sends a bad message, but it doesn't rise to the level of censure."
Joseph said he may support creating a social media use policy if it didn't appear with a resolution to censure. He said censure is the most severe action a commission can take to condemn a member's behavior.
Joseph will be a commissioner for at least another two years. He said he aims to remedy the acrimony between members of the city commission.
"(The division) has been a concern for me for the last several years. We are ideologically divided on a lot of issues," Joseph said. "I encourage all the members to reach out and talk to each other.
"I believe there is more consensus than there is divide - the division just grabs more attention."
Joseph wants the commission to shift its gaze to other issues like providing aid to the community during the pandemic.
"I think city commissioners and county commissioners need to realize that they represent a whole community, not just the people that voted for them or agree with them," Joseph said.
City commission meetings can be streamed via the city's Youtube channel. The next meeting is at 7 p.m. on Feb. 22.