Twp. treasurer threatens lawsuit against supervisorPublished 10:22pm Tuesday, July 5, 2011
With a light agenda and not a soul in the audience at Tuesday’s Niles Township board meeting, it looked like a quick night for the township board.
And it seemed that would be the case until Supervisor Jim Kidwell’s report, when he read aloud a letter from R. McKinley “Mac” Elliott, the attorney for Township Treasurer Jim Ringler.
The letter calls into question a press release that Kidwell distributed to local media in February, alleging that Ringler had “tried to intimidate” Zoning Administrator Stefanie Woodrick into “making illegal zoning changes” that would have benefited Ringler, who works as a real estate broker for Grubb & Ellis/Cressy & Everett.
Since the issuance of the release, an internal investigation has revealed that Ringler did not violate township policy.
The letter from Elliott alleges that Kidwell had “malicious intent to cause injury to Mr. Ringler, both personally and professionally” and demands that Kidwell write a retraction letter to the Niles Daily Star, the South Bend Tribune and the St. Joseph Herald-Palladium — all media outlets that quoted the release.
According to the letter from Elliott, if Kidwell doesn’t make the requested retractions, Ringler will file suit against him for tortious interference, which means intentionally damaging someone’s contractual or business relationships.
Elliott’s letter reads: “There is no basis in fact for your malicious comments, which were made with the intent to damage the personal reputation, character, integrity and business relationships of Mr. Ringler.”
In the letter, Elliott also requests retractions from Kidwell for letters he wrote to Grub & Ellis Corporate Offices, alleging the same misconduct from Ringler and also claiming Ringler has been doing real estate business out of his township treasurer’s office “for a long time.” Elliott says that Kidwell wrote a letter to township residents making the same claims as well.
Kidwell told the board that he doesn’t plan to issue any retraction.
“I would do a retraction if there was anything in the press release that was not true and backed up with written documentation,” Kidwell said.
Kidwell said he has two written complaints from the zoning administrator regarding Ringler.
“I do not like the idea of trying to be intimidated by Attorney R. McKinley Elliott and Mr. Ringler by having my civil rights and freedom of speech taken away by issuing a gag order,” Kidwell said.
Kidwell said if a lawsuit is filed, he is prepared to take it to trial. He also added that his attorney will be issuing a response to Elliott.
Ringler didn’t respond to Kidwell’s report during the meeting and declined comment afterward. Elliott couldn’t be reached by press time.