FRASER, Mich. (WXYZ) – Talking about the long running, heated controversy about police officers using off-shore, on-line degrees to get extra cash, the top cop for the city of Fraser said “I’ve never been involved in something like this. It’s very confusing, confusing to me.”
George Rouhib, the public safety director for Fraser, was trying to defend 12 of his officers before Tuesday’s nights special city council meeting.
The names of the dozen officers have not been released.
Between 2003 and 2009, all but one of those officers presented to the city degrees like the one obtained by 7 Action News investigators, claiming at least a bachelors degree from Almeda University.
Almeda is an online operation in the Caribbean that has been harshly discredited in the United States as a diploma mill by everyone from the Department of Education who say it’s not accredited, to several states that don’t allow the degrees for education credits for public employees.
The debate on Fraser city council? Was it failed policies, and agreements between the city and the officers union that allowed the officers to be paid extra for the online degrees, when state law made it illegal to present them for cash or promotions in 2005?
Rouhib argued, “Nobody knows about this public act. The union attorneys never heard of it, that’s what they’re claiming. And certainly, the officers didn’t know anything about it.”
The city attorney explained the legislation, known as the the Authentic Credentials in Education Act, became state law in 2005.
It says, in part, that “an individual shall not knowingly use a false academic credential to obtain employment; to obtain a promotion, or higher compensation in employment.”
The public safety director, who has bachelor and masters degrees from Michigan schools said, he started raising red flags about the degrees as early as 2004, but the numbers of officers presenting the online degrees kept growing, while the city did nothing to stop it.
“So you know how that goes,” Rouhib said. “One officer puts it in and word gets out, and so they all put in for it, they thought it was okay.”
For now, the council has voted to stop paying the education benefit for online, unaccredited degrees, and to sue Almeda University.
The public safety director, council members and city officials, all spoke of changes in monitoring, and other processes going forward to better protect the city.
For the director of public safety, a final thought: “But the question is, can we move forward from here?”