Scottville attorney resigns, referencing issues with police chief, commissioners. 

August 22, 2022

Carlos Alvarado

Scottville attorney resigns, referencing issues with police chief, commissioners. 

SCOTTVILLE — Scottville City Attorney Carlos Alavardo resigned tonight, as a result of the issues the city recently has faced with its police chief, Matt Murphy and the efforts by some of the city commissioners to defend Murphy and place blame on City Manager Jimmy Newkirk. Alvardo’s resignation letter, dated today, Aug. 22, 2022, was read by Mayor Marcy Spencer during tonight’s regular city commission meeting. The commission voted 6-1 to accept Alvarado’s resignation with Mayor Pro-Tem Rob Alway voting against it. 

In his resignation letter, Alvarado spells out the events that centered around the July 25 incident that involved Murphy and City Manager Jimmy Newkirk in which Murphy claimed he had been fired by Newkirk. Alvardo also refers to the behavior of commissioners Nate Yeomans and Ryan Graham as further reason behind his resignation.  

“After the events of the last two weeks, I have come to the realization that I can no longer continue serving you as your city attorney,” Alvarado stated. “There seems to be no interest for learning the facts on which to base informed decisions, or the legal consequences of actions taken.” 

Earlier in the meeting, Newkirk pointed out that only Mayor Marcy Spencer and Mayor Pro-Tem Alway had spoken to him about the July 25 incident with the chief, though Yeomans announced, during the commission’s July 25 meeting, that the chief had been fired and Graham, during the Aug. 8 meeting of the commission, called Newkirk a “tyrant” for his actions when attempting to discipline the chief. Newkirk has not spoken publicly about the incident based on advice by Alvarado, he said during the meeting. 

Matt Murphy

“My professional involvement in Chief Murphy’s unfortunate personnel issue began on Sunday July (24), 2022 when I received a communication from City Manager Newkirk stating that Officer (Katrina) Skinner had requested a meeting for the next day, Monday, July 25, 2022, with Chief Murphy, Mayor Spencer, and himself regarding a scheduling issue. I had scheduled myself to be available Monday morning, July 25, 2022. 

“The conflict between Officer Skinner and Chief Murphy stemmed from a previous verbal agreement Officer Skinner had with the City, which exempted her from working weekends (Saturdays and Sundays). She reported that Chief Murphy had asked her to report to work on Saturday.

“During the weekend (Sunday), I was told that Officer Skinner had not reported to work on Saturday and that Chief Murphy had suspended her for a day (Monday), so it was not clear whether she would attend the requested meeting. On Monday morning in a telephone call with the Mayor and the City Manager, I advised the City Manager to send an email to Chief Murphy, asking him to reinstate Officer Skinner and making him aware of Skinner’s allegation, as a possible liability for the city, as explained in the email sent to Chief Murphy on Monday morning.

“On Monday, July 25, 2022, I was out of the office (his law firm office in Ludington) at a charity event for an organization of which I am the president, so I was not available via telephone or email. A text message from the City Manager advised me that Chief Murphy was upset about the email sent to him, and had not returned Officer Skinner to duty.

“What happened next that afternoon? I was not at City Hall. However, the facts show that Chief Murphy sent back to his office after having a discussion with the City Manager regarding the email sent by the City Manager to the Chief earlier in the morning. Starting at 5:33 (p.m.) on Monday afternoon, I began receiving throughout the evening, several incoherent messages from Chief Murphy on my personal cellular phone. The gist of these messages was that he had been fired by the City Manager and he was demanding a meeting to discuss his record.

“Since I did not have sufficient information to address the situation depicted in Chief Murphy’s messages, and it was late at night (the last message was after midnight), I waited until Tuesday morning to speak with City Manager Newkirk. Upon talking to him, I learned that Chief Murphy had wiped to factory setting his city-owned computer, deleting all the public records of which he is supposed to be the custodian. He also wiped clean his city-owned cellular phone.”

Alvardo then refers to a memo that recommends the commission adopt a determination on that matter.

“On Wednesday, July 27, 2022, I participated in a meeting between Chief Murphy, Mayor Spencer, and City Manager Newkirk. I moderated the meeting, and the only purpose was to state to the Chief, as I had explained to his attorney (Melissa Stowe-Lloyd) the day prior, that as far as the City was concerned, Chief Murphy had not been terminated. Chief Murphy is a contracted employee, his salary is set by the Commission, and while he reports to the City Manager and is subject to his supervision, his employment contract can only be terminated by the Commission, as the City Manager does not have the financial authority to encumber the City in any amount over $2,000. As the Chief’s supervisor, the City Manager has the power and authority to recommend the termination of the Chief’s contract to the Commission.

“At the end of the meeting, it was my understanding that the matter was settled and that, while it seemed obvious that the relationship between the City Manager and the Chief of Police had been severely damaged, I trusted both to be professionals and move forward. That has not been the case. On Monday, August 8, 2022, at the regular Commission meeting, Commissioner Yeomans distributed a letter from a City of Ludington councilwoman (Cheri Stibitz), and Commissioner Graham read a letter, both of them widely publicized, serving no other purpose but to exacerbate the matter. As commissioners they do not need to read someone else’s letters to express their opinions, as they are entitled to conduct an inquiry to assert the facts and determine whether an ordinance or contractual violation has taken place.

“A simple personnel issue, elevated to disproportionate importance, has brought to the surface the fact that the commission is divided to the extreme that I do not believe my role as an attorney is useful, simply because there seems to be no interest in the legal support of a position and or argument before adopting decisions. I am not naive. The commission is a political body, and politics drive commission decisions, but when a political body and the interested parties lack the interest to even learn the facts that may have an impact on the city’s liabilities, my work as an attorney is no longer required.”

The commission discussed the issue of the wiped computer and phone. Newkirk had received a quote from a data recovery lab that estimated recovery of the data would have cost between $800 to $1,800. During the commission’s discussion on the topic and in a memo to the commission Murphy admitted that he had a backup of the data, including the phone. However, he did not offer the information during the July 27 meeting with the mayor, city manager and city attorney (that meeting was recorded and MCP has received a copy of the recording through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act). 

During the commission meeting, Alway asked Murphy how the city could receive the backed up data. Murphy said some of the information was sensitive information that was police business. Alway then made a motion to instruct the city manager to contact the Michigan State Police to ask if it could receive the data. Murphy then stated that the data was stored in the police department’s evidence room.

Mayor Spencer then stated that she believed Murphy deliberately withheld the information about the backed up data during the July 27 meeting. 

The topic of retrieving the data was ultimately tabled. 

Newkirk said, following the meeting, that he still plans on contacting the Michigan State Police to request it investigate the matter. 

“The city is high and dry for an attorney now,” Al Deering, a citizen and chairman of the city’s planning commission said during public comment. “It’s an embarrassment to the commission and publicly there’s nothing worse than your public perception.”

Jeff Barnett of Amber Township, who owns several downtown buildings, said he had come to the meeting to talk about the many new business ventures he and his partners have planned for downtown. Instead, he said he wanted to talk about the issue with the commission and the police chief, which has caused him to possibly reconsider his investments. 

“I believe in Scottville and am putting a huge investment in Scottville,” Barnett said. “I’ve got to rethink a lot of things considering what’s going on here. I really think Scottville had been heading in the right direction.” 

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