Controversy in IR police chief firing

IRON RIVER — Details about the strained relationship between former Iron River Police Chief Laura Frizzo and Iron River City Manager David Thayer have surfaced in the wake of Frizzo’s termination last week.

Frizzo, through her attorney Roy Polich, claimed Thayer was “confrontational” with her, blocked her return to work after a medical leave, and has a “history of animosity toward women and the police,” while Thayer accused Frizzo of not treating citizens with respect and having a management style irreconcilable with his own.

Thayer told The Daily News he discussed his concerns with Frizzo a year ago, but she didn’t change.

“A police chief needs an even demeanor,” Thayer said. “She would intimidate people.”

Over the course of the year, Frizzo repeatedly asked Thayer for an additional full-time officer and more administrative help, Polich said in a press release issued earlier this week. When she suggested going directly to the city council with the requests, Thayer became “very confrontational,” according to the release.

Frizzo took a brief medical leave in September after testifying at a hearing for the Kelly Cochran murder case. But Thayer wouldn’t let her return to work, Polich alleged, even though she provided him with the two requested doctor’s notes declaring her fit for duty.

Thayer said Frizzo initially gave him a “vague” medical statement indicating she had an ailment that was never adequately explained to him. The first doctor’s note didn’t report a “clean bill of health,” Thayer said, but was a conditional release saying Frizzo couldn’t work more than 40 hours a week. Since the note indicated she may be better in three months, Thayer said he extended her medical leave. Frizzo also saw a doctor of Thayer’s choice; however, Thayer claimed the doctor told Frizzo her return to duty was contingent on the city manager’s approval and not the doctor’s opinion.

“It is now quite clear that his expressed concern for her medical condition had nothing to do with him refusing to allow her to resume her duties,” Polich said. “This whole process has been nothing but a ruse, contrived by Thayer to deceive the public and the city council of his personal desire to terminate Chief Frizzo.”

Polich’s statement went on to claim Thayer has a history of animosity toward women and police, telling Frizzo “women don’t belong in men’s jobs.”

A police chief in Grayling, Mich., resigned after confrontations with Thayer while he was employed as city manager there, Polich added.

Thayer called these statements “unfounded, unproven accusations.”

Furthermore, Polich pointed out Thayer was arrested on 24 misdemeanor counts in February 2010 and was ultimately convicted of violating a state campaign finance law in 2011.

Thayer called the 24 misdemeanors baseless, politically-motivated accusations and noted they eventually were dropped.

Frizzo remains “troubled that several very serious cases are not being properly or timely investigated and that evidence is not being processed in accordance with legal requirements” in the absence of a working police chief, Polich said.

Thayer maintains the Iron River Police Department continues to do everything required of it and works effectively with the Iron County Prosecutor’s office on major cases such as the Cochran case.

“She’d like to think the department can’t handle being without her,” Thayer said of Frizzo. “I intend to hire a new chief that will bring respect for citizens back to the department.”

In a contrast to Thayer’s statements, Polich cited an Oct. 25 letter from Iron County Prosecutor Melissa Powell urging the city to work out a resolution with Frizzo so both the Iron River Police Department and Iron County Prosecutor’s Office can efficiently function.

“The real losers in this situation seem to be the taxpayers of Iron River and the citizens of Iron County,” Powell said in the letter. “Victims’ criminal investigations have been and may continue to be incomplete, untimely, or returned to the agency for insufficient evidence.”

Powell declined to comment on how Frizzo’s termination will influence the upcoming Cochran murder trial, in which Frizzo was lead investigator. However, Powell confirmed Frizzo will be subpoenaed to testify.

Per the Iron River city charter, the city manager can hire and fire non-union city employees such as the police chief, Iron River Mayor Terry Tarsi said. The only position the city council can hire and fire is the city manager, he added.

The Iron River City Council next meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, at the Iron River City Hall on Genesee Street.

Nikki Younk’s e-mail address is nyounk@ironmountaindailynews.com.