HOWARD CITY — After two years on the job, this village’s manager unexpectedly announced his resignation Monday night.
Randy Heckman was elected village president in November 2014 and was hired as village manager in December 2014.
At the end of Monday night’s regular Howard City Village Council meeting, Heckman read an emotional prepared statement stating his unhappiness with Department of Public Works Director Michael Van Wagner, who during a November 2016 Village Council meeting publicly accused Heckman of failing to comply with backflow device testing requirements at Heckman Funeral Home in downtown Howard City. Van Wagner had threatened to turn off water access to the funeral home as a result.
When accused, Heckman denied any wrongdoing and shortly after the November meeting he provided Van Wagner with documentation showing he had complied with testing requirements.
During Monday night’s meeting, Heckman said he looked into backflow device testing requirements throughout the village of Howard City and he found three businesses that have never had backflow testing done.
“Mr. Van Wagner stated that he was just doing his job and he hoped it didn’t cause any hard feelings,” Heckman said. “Obviously it did cause some hard feelings. In my two years here, I’ve never ever — I repeat, never ever — discussed anybody else’s water issues being shut off. Obviously, I’ve been singled out in this situation. Why are other businesses and residents not being tested? How fair is that? In discussing this with my lawyer, he called it slandering and defamation of character. I don’t think this was done professionally, but it’s done and we won’t speak of it again.”
Heckman then announced he would be resigning as village manager due to becoming overwhelmed with his manager duties in addition to owning and operating two businesses — Heckman Funeral Home and Heckman Lawn Care & Snowplowing — as well as other factors. He will remain fire chief of the Howard City Fire Department as well as in his elected capacity as village president.
“In the past six months I’ve lost a lot of sleep in this position,” he said. “Things have changed. My parents’ health has continued to fail. I became a grandpa. My lawn care and funeral business continues to grow astronomically and I don’t think I’m being fair to Howard City to continue as the village manager. I’m not doing the village justice. I’m not too proud to say that.”
Heckman said he believes some good things have happened during his tenure as manager, including the opening of several new businesses, the ongoing Shaw Street project, purchasing a new fire truck and rebuilding the ballfields.
“I think we’re going in the right direction,” he said. “I think we as a council need to sit down and decide what direction we want to go, whether we hire a part-time manager, a full-time manager. I will stay on board until we make that transition, but we need to do it, we need to look for someone to lead us down the next path, the next grant. In my opinion, the quicker the better. I just can’t handle the day to day things. The stress is literally killing me.
“I thank you for letting me do the village manager job for this time period,” Heckman concluded, the statement being met with surprised applause from the Village Council and audience.
The Village Council voted to have a special meeting at 7 p.m. tonight to discuss the process of hiring a new village manager.
“I am sorry Mr. Heckman felt as though he was being picked on or singled out, but the fact is I have never in my 23 years had a business ignore my repeated request to comply with the backflow ordinance that was adopted by the village and given to me to enforce,” Van Wagner told The Daily News after the meeting. “Despite Mr. Heckman’s claim, there is no other business with current non-compliance issues that require disconnect. Because of Mr. Heckman’s position with the village, I extended him as much professional courtesy as possible without putting the village water system at risk. Repeated attempts for compliance from our backflow inspection company and myself produced no results of compliance or the intention to comply.
“Because Mr. Heckman is my boss, I had no choice but to bring the issue up to his bosses for a resolution,” he said. “Even with fearing for my job, my integrity and concern for the residents’ safety would not just allow me to sweep this under the table.”