Howard supervisor gets support for firing

Published 1:13 pm Wednesday, January 19, 2005

By By TOM UEBBING / Niles Daily Star
NILES - More than 100 citizens packed the Huntly Memorial Baptist Church for the monthly meeting of the Howard Township Board of Trustees.
The venue was changed from the normal site, Howard School, in anticipation of a large turnout due to controversial issues to be discussed.
Trustees present were Shelby Farmer, Irving Frost, George Johnson, Mike Richmond, township supervisor Michael Sutherland, treasurer Shaune Timm, and clerk Shirley Tuttle. Also attending was deputy clerk Terry Ernsberger.
The first issue that drew a strong response from the public was the firing of Zoning Administrator Eileen Glick. Sutherland began the discussion by emphasizing that it was his decision alone to let her go. He said the terms of Glick's employment were "at will" and that as such he was not legally required to state the reason for her dismissal and that he would not do so on the advice of counsel.
He noted that Glick has the right to a closed or open session to discuss why she was being removed. She was not present at the township meeting.
Sutherland said he has three persons under consideration to replace her on an interim basis. He plans to quickly place ads, take applications and find a permanent replacement.
Sutherland said he needs the support of the board of trustees for his decision and opened the matter for discussion.
Mike Richmond said he thinks Glick was doing her job and that it was a wrong decision.
Shirley Tuttle concurred, saying "It's very wrong," and that others could be subject to firing in a similar fashion. This drew applause from the crowd.
The matter was put to a vote with the roll call showing four in favor of the firing - Farmer, Frost, Sutherland and Timm; and three opposed - Johnson, Richmond and Tuttle.
During the time provided for public comment eight individuals strongly and some of them heatedly demanded that Sutherland reveal the reason for his action but he resisted all attempts to induce him to disclose anything.
Some of their remarks were greeted with applause.
Donna Bradfield wanted to know how some trustees could vote in favor of the firing if it was Sutherland's sole decision. Had they been informed of the reason? No reply was offered to this question.
In apparent defense of Sutherland, Gene Clementson, a Weesaw Township board member, said legally Sutherland would need Glick's permission to publicly discuss the reason for letting her go.
The other issue that brought the public out was how the transition to a new method of paying the volunteer firefighters was handled. When the State of Michigan audited the township's records, the audit manager for the Department of the Treasury, Carey Vaughn, stated that the way the firefighters were being paid was illegal as their was no accountability for the disbursement of the funds.
He made written recommendations for rectifying this situation.
The existing arrangement was that, although volunteers, the township compensated the firefighters by issuing a monthly check of $700, unencumbered with no receipts required, to the firefighters' association which would then in turn pay its members.
The new arrangement pursuant to the necessary changes calls for a single check to be written once a year on a "per run" basis for services rendered.
Sutherland stated that it was "misinformation" that raised the ire of the firemen, such as the rumor that the State was going make them return their earnings on an individual basis.
He reported that he arranged a meeting with the past and current president of the firemen's association to work out the details of the new payment plan. When he arrived he was surprised to find 30 very unhappy firefighters there to confront him and that it took him 45 minutes to convince them that he was there to help not harm them.
Nevertheless, during the public comment period several firefighters expressed their disapproval of the way Sutherland handled the matter. Other citizens voiced their gratitude and appreciation for the work of the firemen to the applause of those present.
There was an undercurrent of criticism aimed at "a small group of people," who were exerting a disproportionate influence on township affairs, by inference, the Howard Township Taxpayer Watchdog Organization.
Larry Eckler, a member of the group maintained that his organization purposely steered clear of involving itself in the firefighter payment controversy.
However, he was aware that once an audit was conducted by the State that the impropriety would be noticed. Others disputed the taxpayers' association non-involvement and Sutherland declined to comment. Eckler said privately that events were being twisted to make his organization look bad.
Trustee Farmer sought to dispel the myth that fundraisers are the firefighters' only source of income by stating that there is more than $114,000 of taxpayer funds budgeted for them.
In a related matter, Ron Pazey, fire department chief, asked the board to develop a policy concerning the department's participation in parades.Sutherland replied they would prepare one for next month's meeting.
In other business, it was noted that so far $7,184.25 was spent on the township's appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court and that no further costs would be incurred until the court handles the case at which time the township could decide to proceed or drop it.
The treasurer reported a beginning balance of $119,535, receipts of $226,873, disbursements of $44,876 and an ending balance of $301, 532.
Supervisor Sutherland will give an in depth report on the SMCAS ambulance service question next month.
After an investigation it has been determined that the Parks Board was correctly constituted in the manner prescribed by the law back in 1962, ending that controversy. Sutherland summarized that according to legal opinion. "As it stands now, the park board is the park board." Clapping broke out in response.
Input was solicited on the color to paint the new Carberry Road water tower, which will provide additional needed water pressure in Howard Township.
After a lengthy discussion involving the board, landowner Lamberton and his attorney Jerry Holmstrom, the board voted 4 to 3 to approve a land
division of Lamberton's property in accordance with the specifications of Michigan law. Lamberton wants to sell a six acre parcel of his land to INDECK Energy Services. Farmer expressed reservations concerning the wording of the proposal. It states the property was zoned for agricultural use but was intended to be used for industrial use. Farmer was concerned that a yes vote would provide a future legal basis for building an industrial facility on the site.
She motioned to table the proposal pending further investigation but the motion was not carried.
Attorney Holmstrom, who also represents INDECK, said despite the wording, a building permit would have to be issued and zoning approval obtained and that he would be willing to strike the industrial reference on the spot. It was pointed out, however, that any changes would require going through the entire legal process from the beginning and so his offer was accepted. There was consensus that permitted use under agricultural zoning included electrical transmission towers and lines.
Holmstrom said the site would be used for an interconnect facility to AEP, not a substation and that interconnect facilities fall under agricultural zoning permitted use.
Voting in favor of the land division were Frost, Sutherland, Timm and Tuttle.
Opposed were Farmer, Johnson and Richmond.
The two-hour lively meeting could be characterized as an energetic exercise of grass roots democracy.