03-23-2017 O’Halloran selected as North Berrien Fire Chief; Arclight Brewing Company presents Waterv

PICKING UP THE TAB… Arclight Brewing Company owner David Coyle presents a check in the amount of $24,721.65 to Watervliet Downtown Development Authority Vice-Chair Jennifer Moore. Coyle and brew pub co-owner Ed Nash took advantage of the DDA’s revolving loan program during the creation and opening of Arclight three years ago. The check amount represents the balance of the $60,000 loan, which Coyle paid off early. Surrounding Coyle and Moore are DDA members (from the left): Karl Bayer, Rochelle Ulleg, Kris Krogel, and Tom Gear. Not pictured are DDA members Bob Becker, Dave Brinker, Tim Freeburn, and Kristy Noack. DDA Chairman Bob Becker thanked Coyle for the timely payments, noting that none of them had been late. He added one of the purposes of the DDA is to encourage new business and to support existing businesses. The repayment of the loan makes funds available in the form of grants and loans through the DDA. (TCR photo by Kristy Noack)

O’Halloran selected as North Berrien Fire Chief

By Annette Christie

Following the findings of a North Berrien Fire Department organizational structure and function study and the recommendation for a full-time Fire Chief in June of 2016, the lengthy detailed search has resulted in the selection of Denis O’Halloran of Berwyn, Illinois.

At a special meeting of the North Berrien Fire Board on Thursday, March 16, the final step in the interview process took place with a six-question interview of the top three candidates, a meet-and-greet with those in attendance, a public comment period, and the final scoring and reveal of the selection.

O’Halloran has 34 years of continuous service with the Berwyn Fire Department, 18 of it in management and administration. He has been the fire chief of the department for the last eight years. He has experience as a paid on call fire fighter, an EMT, and as a paramedic.

The Berwyn Fire Department is on the west side of Chicago and answers about 7,000 calls for service a year.

When asked how long he would plan on continuing to serve in this capacity, O’Halloran said that in planning to move from his west suburban home, he hoped to be kept around for a long time.

His budgeting experience includes controlling 15% of the $14 million dollar budget that is afforded the department he currently runs and its operations.  He said that he has consistently come in under budget at year end.

When answering the familiar interview question of what is your biggest strength and weakness, O’Halloran said that his strength was that he was too nice of a guy especially with weaker people and his weakness would be getting used to not having a fire hydrant every 300-feet.  “That is something I would have to learn to work with,” O’Halloran said.

In creating a transition plan, O’Halloran said he would first get familiar with the area and the personnel in the department. He would communicate with the board members and every single fire fighter and would then create the transition plan that would be best for North Berrien.

O’Halloran said that he prefers to be a working chief and one of the hardest parts of his job currently is standing outside in command and not being hands on in the fire.  He said he does go to every fire and that this does give him an opportunity to see how his employees are working with the public.

The other two finalists were Bob Adams and Michael Mattix.  Adams has spent the last 28 years serving the residents in the North Berrien Fire district.  He has received instrumental training through the department and is currently a lieutenant with the department.  Mattix has been with the City of Dowagiac Fire Department for 32 years.  He is currently a captain with the department and its Operations Officer.

Following the interview process, the public was able to have a meet-and-greet with each of the candidates.  Dinner was provided by the North Berrien Ladies Auxiliary.  When the meeting was called back to order, it offered an opportunity for the public to comment to the fire board, however, no one chose to address them.

As the scores were tallied from the process they were announced with O’Halloran coming out on top.  A motion was made to give the fire board’s attorney permission to work on offer details and contract language for the fire chief position.  It is unknown how long that process will take.

Jeff Swanson with Complete Solutions Design Group assisted the interview committee with the process.  Swanson was one of two that helped with the survey completed last year and came in to evaluate the department and the community. Swanson has more than 20 years of organized fire service experience.

The interview committee was made up of Deb Frank, Todd Bohle, Ken Parrigin, Jim Polashak, Bob Howell, and Bill Moser. All of the municipalities that belong to the fire department were involved.  The committee met once a week either in person or on a conference call.  The job was posted in several publications and websites, including on the North Berrien Fire Department website.  There were originally 12 applicants that were narrowed down to 10 (a number set in the beginning of the process no matter how many applicants there were). Those 10 applicants were approached for an application and an essay type of assessment.

Ultimately four candidates were selected to go through a day long assessment center type process.  The interview committee was able to observe the process.  The assessors brought in to complete the day long process, scored the candidates.  Community leaders and firefighters were invited in to be a part of that process as well.

Frank said, “I am very pleased with the process.”

Hagar Township Board Supervisor Izzy DiMaggio said, “They were all excellent candidates and any one of them would make us proud.”  DiMaggio also thanked the interview committee and said they did a wonderful job.

Hagar Twp. Board approves application for kayak park grant over objections from vocal group opposed to use of funds for public access and promoting tourism

By Jon Bisnett

Hagar Township Supervisor Izzy DiMaggio presided over the public hearing on the proposed grant-funded Kayak Launch Project to be located on idle township property along the Paw Paw River, when a group of residents attempted to sway public opinion with accusations of squandering taxpayer funds.

Kayak park

The project, spearheaded by $2,800 expenditure from the Downtown Development Authority with Abonmarche Architects who designed the site, would leverage grant funds from the Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund to build a $464,000 kayak launch with picnic areas, paved parking and permanent vault toilets at the site on township property just off Coloma Road.

DiMaggio prepared a detailed fact sheet for the hearing along with over 20 letters of support from neighboring communities and governmental officials including the Friends of the Paw Paw River with their multi-community effort to clean up the river to accommodate non-motorized watercraft.

HAGAR TOWNSHIP HALL… was packed Monday, March 20 for what initially appeared to be a routine hearing to answer questions in regard to the proposed grant-funded Kayak Launch Recreation Project, when a small but boisterous faction arrived to voice adamant opposition to a “waste of taxpayer money” and questioned the Township’s wisdom to allow handicapped individuals to use the proposed facility. (TCR photo by Jon Bisnett)

DiMaggio fielded what could be called a normal array of questions from the capacity crowd numbering in excess of 50 residents, with a general tone of approval as detailed inquiries were satisfied.

But not all were satisfied as a group of late arrivals fired off a barrage of redundant attempts to paint the project as a waste of their taxpayer money.

As the hearing ran well over 30 minutes the group questioned who was paying for this, making every effort to tie the expense back to their own tax dollars.

DiMaggio explained that zero taxpayer dollars were in play. The initial $2,800 comes from the DDA’s recapture of tax dollars that would otherwise pass out of the township. The source of the grant is the DNR Trust Fund which receives its funding from the income generated by oil leases through the State of Michigan. The required local funds to match with the grant will come also from the DDA. And finally the ongoing site maintenance can come from either Parks & Recreation, Township General Fund or again from the DDA.

The opposing group called out the project as a waste of resources and demanded a show of hands as to who would use the park. An estimated 80% of those in attendance raised their hands. Members of the minority group expressed that the money should be spent on Riverside School not tourism while one member directly stated he disapproved of the spending of his tax money on what was referred to as a “stupid” library and a museum nobody goes to. A person in attendance questioned why the township would allow the handicapped to use the park. They expressed if someone in a wheelchair falls out of a kayak and drowns who will pay for that.

(The Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990, is a comprehensive civil rights law. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public facilities, accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications among others.)

The roll-call vote that followed approved resolutions for the submission of grant applications to the DNR Trust Fund and a backup application to the Land and Water Conservation fund. Clerk Marlene Davis cast the solitary “No” vote on both resolutions.

The cost to prepare the additional documentation required to submit the grants is already included in the original design fees from Abonmarche.

The disgruntled group left the hall immediately following the vote.


County Commissioner Dave Vollrath spoke briefly to remind residents that the Berrien County Commission is expanding its schedule of evening meetings from just four to six for 2017 with one scheduled for June 1 at the North Berrien Senior Citizen Center at 6:00 p.m. Fire Consultant Jeff Swanson spoke at length describing the fire chief search process to date; he commended the local volunteers who have served on the search committee.

Clerk’s Report

Clerk Ian Haight updated the board on Pride Care Ambulance calls totaling only six with a 10:10 average response time. Haight presented two resolutions, subsequently approved regarding procedural matters of poverty guidelines and letter of protest for property taxes.

Treasurer’s report

Bills for the month of February in the amount of $22,933.75 were presented by Treasurer Marlene Davis and were approved unanimously.

Parks department

Beth Raiser is in the process of taking inventory of post winter repairs needed around the parks while also considering some updated signs for some parks. Otherwise Raiser is still working with Clerk Haight in hope of settling on a single lawn maintenance contractor to handle all the township parks, cemeteries and the Hall.

Building Inspector

Butch Kelly had a short report of just four permits issued in the amount of $27,201. Kelly commented that all last year saw just two new home starts and 56 other permits.

Old business

Two applicants have come forward for the position of Clerk soon to be vacant due to Ian Haight’s departure from the area. Haight also leaves a vacancy as treasurer of the fire board. Teresa McCain and Sarah Cook have both expressed interest in the clerk post, while former Parks & Recreation Director Deb Frank is interested in the fire board spot.  Open interviews will be conducted next month. Having no other business DiMaggio then adjourned the meeting with the next regular monthly meeting of the township board to be held 7:00 p.m. Monday, April 10.


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