Iron River police chief firing draws strong reaction
IRON RIVER — Residents in support of dismissed Iron River Police Chief Laura Frizzo — as well as a few dissenters — packed the Iron River City Council chambers Wednesday to air their grievances.
The matter wasn’t on the council’s agenda, so members didn’t take any action on residents’ calls to reinstate Frizzo or fire City Manager David Thayer.
When asked if she even wanted her job back, Frizzo declined to comment. Thayer said he already has interviewed a person to serve as interim police chief, and plans to launch an effort to recruit a permanent chief after the first of the year.
Mayor Terry Tarsi said the council intends to review Thayer on how he handled the situation with Frizzo, and on his general work over the past year.
Per the Iron River city charter, the city manager can hire and fire non-union employees such as the police chief, while the city council only has hiring and firing authority over the city manager.
Thayer terminated Frizzo’s employment Dec. 9, citing her management style and professional standards and practices as irreconcilable with his own.
This came after months of controversy between the two. Frizzo, through her attorney Roy Polich, claimed Thayer was “confrontational,” blocked her return to work after a medical leave, and has a “history of animosity toward women and the police. Thayer accused Frizzo of not treating citizens with respect.
Public safety in Iron River in the absence of a working police chief was on several residents’ minds Wednesday.
Melody Savala called the city’s crime statistics “frightening,” and thought it should have a minimum of six full-time officers. She reported nothing but positive experiences with Frizzo and the Iron River Police Department.
Nicole Thurston, while noting she’s not a city resident, said she does business in Iron River and should have the right to feel safe and protected while in town. Frizzo has worked “tirelessly” as police chief to investigate important cases such as the one against Iron County murder suspect Kelly Cochran, she added.
Thurston went on to ask council members why they hired Thayer with his “troubled and criminal past,” referring to an incident in which Thayer was arrested on 24 misdemeanor counts in February 2010 and ultimately convicted of violating a state campaign finance law in 2011. Thayer has called these charges politically-motivated.
The council did do a background check on Thayer before hiring him and talked to several references who spoke positively and negatively about him, Tarsi said. Of the seven total applicants and three interviewed applicants for the city manager position, Thayer was the best candidate, Tarsi said.
Amanda List of Iron Mountain questioned if it was proper for Thayer to be the city’s acting police chief in Frizzo’s absence, and suggested the attorney general’s office be contacted to investigate allegations Thayer cut a lock off an evidence room door and went into Frizzo’s computer.
Thayer clarified after the meeting he has only taken over the “administrative arm” of the police chief position, while existing Iron River officers do the actual police work. Accusations about cutting a lock are untrue, he said, as he used a key to access files for a Freedom of Information Act request.
Other residents pointed out the citizens have the power to remove city council members from office if they don’t follow the will of the people.
Two people presented the council with documents — Polich gave members a list of statements from people who worked with Thayer in the past and had negative things to report, while Jason Asselin of Iron Mountain offered them an online petition he started to reinstate Frizzo that contained about 800 signatures total and 235 from Iron River residents. Tarsi noted too many of the signatures were from people outside of Iron River and even outside the state.
A few spoke out against Frizzo, accusing her of past wrongdoings such as a drunk driving arrest. Polich immediately struck down the statements as false. Frizzo acknowledged after the meeting “some things in (her) past are not perfect,” but she came back a stronger officer.
Others thought Thayer deserved a fair chance as city manager.
After the public comment session ended, Frizzo said she was encouraged to hear all the support and wants to “go out with (her) head high.”
Thayer said he “feels good” about his decision to fire Frizzo, adding many people have thanked him for it.
Nikki Younk can be reached at email@example.com or 906-774-2772, ext. 41.