Unrest in Cass

Published 12:45 pm Monday, February 21, 2005

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Cassopolis Vigilant
CASSOPOLIS - Tempers flared and formed an almost visible triangle reaching from the village council bench and gavel to the clerk's chair and to the back of the room where the public sometimes didn't wait for their chance to speak.
Monday evening's meeting wasn't a Valentine Day gift to the community. Instead Clerk Paula Beauchamp presented paperwork from her attorney, Mark Westrate, showing she was suing the village. The council approved a resolution that Beauchamp would be sanctioned, though never specifying what that would entail.
The incident occurred at a Jan. 18 special meeting which council member Michelle Andrews had called to discuss the contract of the village manager, who had been evaluated at a different meeting back in December, as his contract was due to expire early in 2005.
Beauchamp believes she was doing her duty by refusing to leave the closed session, while President Julia Bell said Village Manager Art Sciorra had the right to request she be kept out, as he was her supervisor.
Instead any discussion at the time dissolved, according to council member Maxine Snipes, who had been asked by Bell to take minutes on Jan. 19.
Now the matter will be settled in court, with the village attorney Frank DeFrancesco facing Dowagiac's Westrate.
The 5 to 2 decisions continued Monday with only Andrews and member Vince Hawkins also voting against other resolutions which would change both the clerk and the treasurer from elected positions to appointments. This was something the council had failed to pass previously with different council members.
Snipes and others on the council, stressed both positions require education and training and shouldn't be ones which people vote for relatives or friends.
The community is able to call a referendum, according to the law, if a petition is signed by not less than 10 percent of the registered voters which is filed with the village clerk within 45 days when the council made the ordinance. Should a petition not be filed, then the present clerk and treasurer, Cynthia Ash, would be in office until 2007.
Some residents in the audience would like to see more than those resolutions reversed. Stone Lake Walter Malone is waiting for a second clarity reading from the county on his recall petition, which would see Bell, Snipes, and council members Lou Anne Bates and William Curry removed from the bench,
A few public comments were positive, such as from Patty Dresser of Bittersweet on Broadway. She commended Sciorra and the council for doing "this thankless job," and the positive things she has seen happening.
Deloris English praised Sciorra for helping her purchase a new home.
But many of those in the audience were there to support Beauchamp and spoke out against the council and its village manager, saying they wouldn't vote again for some of those on the council. Another said a mediator needed. Still others said they were "ashamed" and "appalled" at the council's behavior.Speaking during the three minutes allowed for public comments, Beauchamp began reading her attorney's letter, in which Westrate declared DeFrancesco's comments to be "wrong."
Westrate said Beauchamp had the "affirmative duty to be at all meetings." He said in his 25 years as Dowagiac's City attorney, he did not remember at any time when the clerk was not present, unless due to illness, even at closed sessions.
He filed a lawsuit for Beauchamp with the Cass County Circuit Court on Feb. 10, the letter stated.
When Beauchamp was stopped when her time was up, Dan Lee used his time to continue reading the rest of Westrate's letter.
Westrate called the council's actions a "smoke screen to attempt o justify the Council's actions after the fact."
In other business:
Adopted the budget which includes a five percent sewer and water rate change. Other increases were approved to raise cemetery rates.
Failed to approve a contract with Yeo and Yeo for accounting and training services, after a discussion as to why training of Beauchamp hadn't been completed in the previous year, especially when the hourly rates were less.
Accepted the vacant property at 302 S. O'Keefe St., in the village, from LaMar Bloss, as back liens for the previous owner couldn't be paid after the original house burned.
Renewed the liability and property insurance with the Michigan Municipal League for $44,795.
Bell appointed Becky Dean to the planning commission.