ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.
The City of Wayland has had two police chiefs in the past nine years, and the difference between them in how they have approached their jobs is striking.
One, Lt. Steve Harper, former commander of the Michigan State Police, Wayland post, spent his six years as an old school, tight-lipped public safety administrator. The other, Mark Garnsey, who soon will begin his third year, presents a much more relaxed department, almost with a nod toward the principles of community policing.
I never had any reason to question the professionalism and integrity of Harper, whose longtime police service speaks volumes. Yet he too often was a mystery because he rarely said anything to the public about what local police were doing.
In other words, public relations was not his strong suit.
He was so tight lipped about the activities of his department that at virtually every City Council meeting, when Mayor Tim Bala asked council members and department heads for comments, he rarely if ever had anything to say.
My only communication from Harper was about eight years ago when a State Police trooper took his own life only several weeks after saving the life of someone else. I opined that it was a real shame this trooper didn’t have the multitudes of brethren of the badge to honor his passing, all because he committed suicide.
Harper turned the tables on me by e-mailing information that the trooper indeed had a large group of fellow officers at his funeral. I then came to the understanding it was people in my field of community journalism who dropped the ball by not covering it like they do so extensively when other officers die, particularly in the line of duty.
That was before he became Wayland’s chief. He left to take a position with his church in Hudsonville, indicating him to be a religious man and a conservative.
Since Garnsey has taken the reins of Wayland Police Chief, I have noticed a 180-degree change in attitude about talking to the public and the press. More often than not he has told the City Council and mayor a lot about what his department has been doing. And it is often I see him and his charges in the middle of community activities, such as the “Night Out” at the City Park.
Garnsey has even started up a Wayland Police web page that has provided news about some of its more colorful cases and about things community people can do about recent negative trends.
I must repeat here, because so many have a talent for misunderstanding what I write, that I have the upmost respect for Steve Harper and the professional job he brought to Wayland. But as a community journalist, I appreciate Garnsey’s more open communication with the public and the press, even if it means showing our warts.