Sear resigns from Mar-Mac Police, but other tensions brew on police commission

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The Mar-Mac Unified Police Commission accepted the resignation of officer Rodger Sear III at a special meeting Feb. 22. Sear was suspended from the department after being arrested by the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 16 for several drug-related charges, including manufacturing marijuana and possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. 

But that wasn’t the only resignation the commission faced last week. Although he has since rescinded his letter, police chief Jason Bogdonovich considered stepping down, not due to Sear’s situation, but citing conflicts with a member of the commission.

“He wasn’t happy because, every time he turned around, he was getting pounded by somebody,” said commissioner Harold Brooks.

Commissioner Pam Brodie-Fitzgerald said she’s simply trying to get the department to follow its manual and abide by the 28E agreement between Marquette and McGregor.

“I’ve got documents going back years on this department,” she said. “I keep trying to ask them to do it right…We should not go with ‘That’s how they’ve always done it.’ They need to be held accountable.”

Brodie-Fitzgerald said the police chief has been hiring and firing people, duties that, according to her, he’s not allowed to perform alone.

Brooks and fellow commissioner Robyn Denning refuted the statement, explaining that hiring and firing decisions are not made without input from the commission.

Brodie-Fitzgerald also accused officers of being at home while they were supposed to be on duty. She said she heard a story of a person from McGregor who was robbed, but did not report the incident to the police department because he felt officers wouldn’t do anything about it.

“Most people think our department is a joke,” she said.

Commission chair Eleanor Soulli took issue with the department, as well. For a month during the summer, she said a speed sign sat near her home on Pleasant Ridge Road, in Marquette, but officers never sat in the area to catch speeders. 

Soulli said she also receives calls from residents who are displeased with the Mar-Mac Police Department.

“They call and just make fun of the police department,” she told the other commissioners.

Denning, who’s been a commission volunteer for 20 years, said he received more complaint calls when he was mayor of McGregor and the city had its own department.

Brooks said the chief and his officers perform a lot of duties residents don’t always see.

“If they don’t see siren lights or people being questioned, they don’t think [the police] are doing anything,” he said.

Soulli and Brodie-Fitzgerald, who are both on the Marquette Council, were also worried Marquette wasn’t getting the respect it deserved on the commission. When the incident with Sear occurred, the two said the Marquette commissioners had to hear it from other people.

“When something has to be talked about, it’s never run through Marquette first,” Soulli added.

Marquette mayor Steve Weipert, who’s not on the police commission, criticized the nit-picking.

“It’s amazing how the fire department and rescue squad get along because they have no interference from people,” he said. “You can’t be nit-picking all the time.”

He urged the commission to take more of a stand on the police department’s future.

First on the commission’s to-do list was hiring an officer to replace Sear. In addition to chief Bogdonovich, the Mar-Mac Police Department has another full-time officer, Steve Finney. He is not yet certified and anticipates attending the academy this spring, which would leave the department short-handed for a time.

Soulli questioned whether having two officers was really necessary, since the communities have smaller populations and don’t experience the nightlife they used to.

“What do you think Marquette used to do?” she questioned, noting that reserve officers, the county or even the state patrol could offer more assistance.

“We have one reserve [officer] who’s filling in reluctantly,” Brooks responded. “Two people can’t do the type of protection, the type of service [people expect].”

Although this might be a quieter time of year, that will change, he added.

“In the summertime, you add more people,” he said. “You have a road connecting two states.”

Brooks said the county usually has two officers out each night. Some incidents, like last weekend’s fatal accident in Edgewood, might draw them both to the other side of the county.

“Then, what if something happened here? What would we do?” he queried.

But Brodie-Fitzgerald said people should also be prepared for future budget cuts. That may include re-looking at health insurance coverage and using vehicles for a longer period of time, she remarked.

“What’s left to cut?” Brooks asked.

Denning agreed, stating, “We’ve cut it the last four years.” That has limited the number of good candidates who apply for officer positions with the department, he said. “You hire them at $13 or $14 per hour, then take their benefits away. These guys have a fair amount of responsibility when they go out.”

Weipert said the financial situation wasn’t that bleak in Marquette, but Brodie-Fitzgerald said that could be fleeting.

“It’s going to be nip and tuck one of these years, down the road,” she said.

The commission ultimately decided to advertise for a full-time officer, with the wage dependent on the individual’s experience and certification level.

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