- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

OAKLEY, Mich. (AP) - A small village in Saginaw County is facing the prospect of losing its insurance coverage following issues including a number of lawsuits against its officials and police chief.

The lawsuits and mounting legal costs drew the attention of the village of Oakley’s insurance provider, the Michigan Municipal League, The Saginaw News reported (https://bit.ly/1pFCPVO ). It plans to drop the policy for the community of about 300 when it expires July 1.

The Michigan Municipal League said the decision is based in part on the frequency of claims against the village, located about 75 miles northwest of Detroit, as well as what the league said was a lack of cooperation and commitment with risk management efforts.

Police Chief of Police Robert Reznick disputes the lack of cooperation allegation.

“I don’t know what they are talking about,” Reznick said. “We never had an audit or a phone call from them.”

Mike Forster, administrator of the Municipal League’s insurance pool, said about 400 government authorities take advantage of the insurance offered by the nonprofit self-insurance program that’s owned, operated and governed by its member communities.

“The decision to not renew coverage with a community is not taken lightly,” Forster said via email. “It is unusual … to take this action, but it is not unique.”

The policy covers the police department, village officials, vehicles, the Village Hall and more from civil claims, property damage and other liability. A new policy could cost Oakley upward of $100,000 a year, which is nearly 10 times the current rate.

Village President Doug Shindorf said he understands why Oakley’s insurer wants to part ways with the community.

“It’s been over $180,000 to defend these cases,” Shindorf said. “They can’t afford it. This is a pool for all the villages.”

Oakley was incorporated in 1887. The lawsuits, primarily filed by owners of the Family Tavern of Oakley, question among other things the village police department’s need to have a reserve officer force of nearly 100 volunteers, who are allowed to carry weapons.

Dennis and Shannon Bitterman own the Family Tavern and Dennis Bitterman has been a village trustee since 2012, but that hasn’t stopped him and his wife from taking legal action. Shannon Bitterman takes issue with the way the police department is run.

“We can’t tell an officer from a reservist,” she said. “They dress in a police-like uniform and report to the police. We don’t know who they are. Others are in plain clothes.”

The police department is funded almost entirely by donations. Reznick said his police department’s operation isn’t the problem.

“It’s not about sides or ‘us against them,’ it’s about what’s right,” Reznick said. “And what’s going on with them is not right, and it hasn’t been.”


Information from: The Saginaw News, https://www.mlive.com/saginaw

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