Councilman’s 911 call, computer use criticized at meeting

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 10, 2013

The question of whether Councilman Paul Smith appropriately used a phone and a computer became topics of debate at the Sterling Heights City Council’s May 7 meeting.

During public comment, resident Geoff Gariepy spoke about what he knew regarding an event that reportedly happened that morning. He said Smith called 911 to complain about a construction vehicle in his neighborhood, and while doing so, allegedly asserted his affiliation with the City Council while trying to get the vehicle removed. 

“It is a particular lack of respect that you have for the office that you hold, sir,” Gariepy said. “I find it greatly disturbing that you would act in the way that you have and tie up our police and 911 operators for a petty, personal little vendetta against a guy trying to earn a living.”

Gariepy’s YouTube account posted what it says are unedited 911 calls that depict a dialogue between a dispatcher and a man who identifies himself as Paul Smith. During the dialogue, the complainant explains that he is blocking an unlicensed construction vehicle so it wouldn’t leave before police arrive.

“I can jump out of the way if he moves,” he said.

“You’re blocking him with your body, not your car?” the dispatcher said.

The complainant said he was, and the dispatcher advised him not to put himself in harm’s way.

“He’s trying to run me over now,” the complainant added. “He revved the engine and came at me with it. He’s trying to escape back onto his site.”

Smith explained at the council meeting that the construction vehicle was driving along Charwood Drive at around 10 a.m., adding that the street does not abut a construction site.

When Smith allegedly saw the vehicle carrying a load of gravel, he called 911 to complain. Smith said police eventually arrived, but they didn’t do anything about it.

“We’ve gone on record that this developer isn’t going to use this backdoor from the site to make my neighborhood part of the construction job,” Smith said. “He has no right to do that, and I’m legitimately protecting myself and the other people in my neighborhood.”

According to the Sterling Heights police report of the incident, “officers determined the vehicle was legally traveling on Charwood to gain access to the construction site.”

In an email sent after the meeting, Smith accused his political enemies of starting a media campaign to hurt him months before an election. He stood by his belief that a construction vehicle can not legally drive the entire length of Charwood. He also said the vehicle could be dangerous, and the route leads to Messmore Elementary School.

“The use of the 911 dispatch system to prevent tragedy is absolutely correct,” he wrote.

Smith said the 911 call was wrongfully released in public, and he wants to know who was responsible.

At the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Michael Taylor acknowledged the recording but denied getting it from someone in dispatch. Taylor criticized Smith’s decision to dial 911 and occupy police and dispatch resources.

“To be using a dispatcher’s time when somebody could be on the other end having a heart attack, waiting, while you’re screaming that there’s an emergency and putting your body in between the road and a 10,000-pound (or) 10-ton piece of equipment — I mean it’s unconscionable,” he said.

The 911 call wasn’t the only issue that caught the attention of some of Smith’s council critics at the May 7 meeting.

During a budget presentation, Councilwoman Marcia Schmidt  interrupted to alert the other council members that Smith was checking emails on his computer. 

“We do have a rule that there is to be no communication while we’re at the council table via email or texting, if I recall correctly,” she said.

In response, Smith said he thought it was acceptable to use a city computer during the meeting. He added that City Manager Mark Vanderpool — who is not a voting council member — uses a computer during council meetings.

Smith also criticized Schmidt’s rebuke as being “absolutely out of line” and said he already knew that the proposed budget was going to pass.

“She is elected to one seat on the council,” he said. “She’s not elected to pass judgment on me, and she’s not here to peek at my computer.”