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Published: Monday, 11/26/2001

Police chief in Reading needs a larger business card

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

READING, Mich. - He wears a jacket and tie to work. But unlike most city managers, Mark Bender also carries a gun and a badge.

It's all part of the job.

Mr. Bender was named police chief of this Hillsdale County community on July 31. A few weeks ago, he also was appointed city manager. The positions, which had been separate, make him the area's only city manager who wears a gun and carries handcuffs to work. “I get very good cooperation,” he laughed.

City council members offered Mr. Bender the city manager's job even though he never applied for the position. Councilman Bill Goodman said council members saw the administrative potential in Mr. Bender when they hired him as police chief.

Mr. Bender was selected after the former police chief, David Graham was fired. Residents rallied behind Mr. Graham and even called for the resignation of City Manager Don Beavers, who made the decision to dismiss him.

Details about why Mr. Graham was fired were never released.

Mr. Beavers resigned a few months later after being offered a job in Constantine, Mich.

Mr. Goodman admitted that the conflict between the former city manager and the former police chief made the decision to create a dual position a unique one. But so far, the reaction among most residents has been positive.

“I've heard from a few people who thought that maybe there was too much power in one place, but most people felt differently,” he said. “We went without a city manger for many years and then we hired one in 1999. There are some people who feel that a full-time city manager is not necessary in a small town.”

Reading, a village of 1,134 people in southwest Hillsdale County, employs about six full-time people. Mr. Bender will oversee the daily operations of the city, as well as the administrative duties of police chief. The hiring of a second full-time officer allowed him to spend more time in the office.

As compensation, Mr. Bender's salary was increased to $40,000 from $30,014 a year. His salary is more than the former city manager's annual $33,000 salary.

“We also felt that by combining those two positions and raising the salary, it made the position a little more attractive and, therefore, more likely for someone to stay because they're getting more money,” Mr. Goodman said.

He said the combined position was based on Mr. Bender's qualifications, and the two jobs would likely be split again when he leaves.

Mr. Bender came to Reading from the Saginaw County Sheriff's Department, where he was under-sheriff from 1996 to 1998. There, he was responsible for the department's $11 million budget.

Before that, Mr. Bender worked as assistant police chief in the Carrollton Township Police Department near Saginaw, Mich.

Mr. Bender said he accepted the position with the understanding that if he or the council believed the concept was not working, he would return to his duties as a full-time police chief. “I told the council that I didn't come to Reading to be city manager, but I would do whatever they wanted me to do,” he said.



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