MICHIGAN – Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars has had a specialized license plate revoked by the Secretary of State after a whistleblower reportedly alerted the Police Officers Association of Michigan that he was a non-member using their plate.
POAM officials said Sollars was ineligible to transfer the plate to a car registered in his name and that the Secretary of State was right to revoke the plate. City officials, including Sollars, are saying the move — particularly a subsequent blog post by POAM calling Sollars “unfriendly” and “ambitious” for trying to benefit from the plate — was a political distraction.
Sollars’ wife of 15 years is a former member of POAM, having previously worked for the 20th District Court in Dearborn Heights for 12 years. Sollars said that since being married, they have registered the family vehicles they typically lease in his name and simply transferred the license plates, including her POAM plate, over to their new leased vehicles.
In August, Sollars received a letter from the Secretary of State seeking POAM membership verification and in response, submitted a letter from the 20th District Court verifying that his wife was an employee from 1993 to 2005.
Sollars said he didn’t receive further correspondence from the Secretary of State until he called and found out he was on record for “voluntarily surrendering” the plate, meaning he had also technically been driving unlawfully for several months.
Sollars believes the situation is meant to drive a wedge between the Taylor Police Department — whose members are represented by POAM — and city administration, he said.
“We’ve never had an issue before,” Sollars said. “In marriage, we think of things as one. I’m thinking this has everything to do with my position as mayor and nothing to do with the license plate itself.”
On Jan. 15, days before Sollars’ 42nd birthday, POAM published an article on their website publicizing that an unnamed high-ranking official had their POAM plate revoked.
According to the post: “When it was reported to POAM that a local politician was scootering around town, proudly displaying their POAM license plate, our office acted quickly. When we could find no documentation from our staff allowing that action, we contacted the Secretary of State to warn them of a possible violation in our long-established protocol.”
The post goes on to say that “when the ambitious Mayor went to renew the license plate in question, they were notified of the law surrounding the application process and denied the further privilege of displaying such.”
The post originally called the offender “unfriendly,” but that was later removed per the request of the Taylor Police Officers Labor Association, according to POAM President Jim Tignanelli.
Tignanelli called the situation “absurd,” saying Sollars should have known he was ineligible and the Secretary of State was right to not accept the letter from the 20th District Court because only letters from POAM’s office are valid.
“He provided an invalid letter and can’t sign (for the plate) saying he’s a member in good standing, because he’s not,” Tignanelli said. “In my opinion, he’s fortunate there are no charges because this is a crime.”
Tignanelli said the post was penned by a POAM employee who he did not wish to name.
“Our blog is a blog,” Tignanelli said. “There’s nothing vulgar in there and his name wasn’t used,” adding that the author of the blog “didn’t just make it up” and that Sollars should have “thicker skin.”
The post also alleges that the offender threatened to call Gov. Rick Snyder on his behalf, which Sollars denies.
According to Tignanelli, the protocol to register for a POAM plate was tightened years ago as a result of civilians receiving and using POAM plates. Since POAM does not have membership cards, an official letter proving membership from the POAM headquarters in Redford Township is used to verify members are in good standing and eligible for the plate, he said.
Tignanelli said he is unsure how Sollars had been granted a plate in the past and said that the union wasn’t looking for people using their plates who shouldn’t have been.
He declined to name the source, but said it was brought to his attention by a local whistleblower and POAM acted on it.
“I don’t care about the past,” Tignanelli said. “This (current) letter was not valid, an inquiry was made and we checked it out.”
Taylor Police Chief Mary Sclabassi said she was “embarrassed and disappointed” by the stance her officers have taken and called the blog post “erroneous.”
“I’ve been here for 22 years and (Sollars) is probably the most friendly mayor we’ve had and he is very pro-police,” Sclabassi said. “He has hired more than a dozen officers in his (first) term, which is more than the last two mayors combined.”
Taylor Police Cmdr. Ray Hopper stood in support of the mayor, saying “we all have a common goal, which is to offer a better, safer Taylor.”
Taylor administrators believe the act was one of hostility, as a result of recent union negotiations.
Taylor Executive Director Amanda Banas, whose role functions as a chief of staff, said there has been “rough waters” between police and administration since the spring.
She cited a difference of opinions in issues like wages, workday shifts and arbitration ultimately being ruled in the city’s favor in the fall.
Taylor Police Officers Labor Association President Gerald Cole could not be reached for comment.
Sollars said he never benefited from having a POAM license plate and said the unfortunate one in all of this is his wife.
He said she is “devastated,” but said neither he nor she will be fighting back.
“It’s my understanding that we have every right to keep the plate, but it’s not worth it,” said Sollars, calling it a distraction from his duties as mayor. “We both support the union, but maybe it’s better to have a bumper sticker instead.”