Barnett Jones's non-retirement
by James Leonard
When Barnett Jones ended his six years as Ann Arbor’s police chief last March, no one really expected him to stay retired.
But who thought the fifty-nine-year-old would get two new jobs, as Flint’s public safety administrator and the head of security and integrity at the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, within a month? Making matters more complicated, Jones told Detroit about his Flint job but didn’t tell Flint about his Detroit job.
This untenable situation ended when a reporter from the Detroit Free Press contacted Flint’s city administrator and state-appointed emergency manager in January. “They had no idea I was burning the candle at both ends,” Jones admits. Seeing how “hurt” his bosses felt at the revelation, Jones says, he chose to resign.
“He never told me,” says Flint emergency manager Mike Brown, who’d hired Jones. “I’m not aware that anyone here knew.”
“The folks in Flint didn’t know,” Jones admits. “And they would never have known ’cause I was there every day at all hours of the day and night. I’d put in seven or eight hours and then go to my other job.”
“He was here,” Brown confirms. “He worked weekdays and weekends and nights and was at meetings throughout the day.”
Sue McCormick, head of Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department, knew he had two jobs. “Barnett fully disclosed he had a contract with Flint,” says McCormick, who knew Jones from her time as Ann Arbor’s head of public services. “I didn’t see any negative impact on his performance. He was here full time and was very present.”
Roger Fraser, Ann Arbor’s former city administrator and head of the state’s emergency manager program, also knew. “I was pushy in getting Barnett to go up there” to Flint, Fraser says. “That is a guy who feels tremendous loyalty to his friends.”
Fraser nevertheless believes Jones made an error when he didn’t tell his colleagues in Flint. “If it was me, I would have,” he says. “But I don’t know what was going
on in his head.”
The money was certainly good: the two jobs paid $135,000 and $138,750 annually. But Jones says the real reason he took both was because “I was caught between the love of two people: Roger Fraser and Sue McCormick.
“I wasn’t paid by the city,” he adds. “I was paid by [a grant from] the Mott Foundation.”
Though Jones had a three-year contract, he says he wanted to leave almost as soon as he took the job: “I was met with a whole host of resistance. They called me the governor’s bitch and the governor’s boy [and said] there’s no reason a black man should make this kind of money. And I was threatened twice.”
But Jones stresses that his bosses were “all great people.” He says he stayed for “my love for my job and my love for some people in Flint. I didn’t want to leave until I left completed projects.”
With Jones’s help, the crime-ridden city divided into four patrol districts to localize policing, reopened its local lockup to hold more criminals, and changed to the 800 MHz frequency to communicate with the state police and other agencies already using it.
“By the end of August, crime had gone down,” reports Jones, “so we got to work on the millage.” Among other things, the public safety millage would begin to rebuild a police force that had been cut by more than half in the previous five years. Few in the strapped city thought the tax, which will cost a typical homeowner $79 annually, would pass. Yet it did, with 57 percent of the vote.
Still, Jones stayed. “City council people worked against the millage, and the day it passed, they were saying they’d find a way to spend it on things other than cops,” he says. “I said I’m not gonna let these people get away with this. The cops got hired this week [in mid-January], so I would have been leaving this week … And
then the story broke.”
Jones insists he didn’t shortchange either job and says “it never crossed my mind” that Flint officials didn’t know about his Detroit gig, “because I’d already notified Roger, and in the day-to-day exchanges between Roger and Mike [Brown], I figured Roger would tell him. But Roger kept my confidence, and that was the hurt I saw” when his bosses called him in.
While Brown says he was “pleased with [Jones’s] overall service,” Flint wants to make sure it got its money’s worth. “We’re looking at his calendar and his records in Detroit to make sure he was on the job forty hours per week,” Brown says.
Fraser says that Jones “worked his ass off” in Flint. “He always put in more time than was expected. It was a struggle putting in the effort he did, and it took a toll on him.” McCormick likewise praises Jones’s performance in Detroit. “He did his job here perfectly well,” she says. “I asked the division heads and got nothing but positive feedback from all of them.”
Jones says he isn’t resigning from his Detroit job. And though the union representing sewer department security officers called for his firing, McCormick says that she wants him to stay.“I’ve learned so much about myself,” Jones says of the experience. “I learned I’m addicted to working.”
[Originally published in March, 2013.]