Recalls are not just another way for people to express their righteousness. The stakes are too high. The collateral damage is too significant. I am calling on all responsible Scio Township voters to stand with me in opposition to this reckless, petulant action by a few angry people.
There are two Ann Arbor Observer articles about the ongoing conflict in Scio Township. While the coverage focuses on the supervisor and the clerk, and I am the target of the recall, it is the elected Township Board that is being obstructed. The clerk and a small group of Township residents are working to undo the 2020 election because they disagreed with the May 2021 Board vote to proceed with hiring a township administrator. In April 2022, the clerk filed a lawsuit against the Township because she disagreed with votes by a majority of the Board. She wants the Circuit Court to overrule and reverse votes by the elected Board.
About the recall…
I was elected to a four-year term as Scio Township Supervisor in November 2020. Nine months later, in August 2021, a group announced a recall campaign against me.
A recall seeks to undo the results of a democratic election. Recalls are drastic measures, not something to use whenever people disagree. Yet this recall campaign stems from a disagreement about whether to fill the vacant position of Township Manager. On May 11, 2021, when the Board of Trustees voted 5-2 to proceed with a search for a Township Administrator, that decision was, surprisingly, the turning point for some people.
First Petition Rejected by Election Commission
The recall organizers include former candidates for Township positions who ran unsuccessfully in 2020. They submitted a recall petition in October 2021. It listed five reasons for recalling me. The County Election Commission rejected that petition because the language was not sufficiently clear or factual.
The recall proponents tried again with narrow petition language that focused on the Supervisor’s salary. On November 5, the Election Commission concluded that “the language in the second petition was of sufficient clarity/factuality….” However, recall proponents are also using the same arguments that the County Election Commission rejected in October.
Recall Petitioners Misleading Voters
To get on the ballot, the recall campaign needs at least 2,439 valid signatures from Scio Township voters. They missed the 1/28/22 deadline, but are still gathering signatures with a goal of getting on the November ballot.
Unfortunately, the recall petition circulators are misleading Scio voters. They are using the same arguments that were rejected by the County Election Commission. They seize on any and all issues to try and paint a negative picture of me and the Township government. I hope voters will weigh the following facts against the misleading arguments offered by the recallers.
Supervisor Salary Lowered by Prior Board
It is a fact that when I filed nominating papers to run for office in April 2020, the incumbent Supervisor was being paid $75,000 and working in a full-time capacity. The position of Supervisor was still full-time and compensated at an annual salary of $75,000 when I was elected on November 3, 2020. I was not elected to a part-time position.
After the November 3, 2020, election, but before I took office, the prior Board of Trustees voted to lower the Supervisor’s salary to $36,000. That 11/10/20 vote to reduce the Supervisor’s salary took place after the 2020 Election. This action occurred despite the continued vacancy in the position of Township Manager, an administrative staffing gap that began in September 2019.
I have regularly worked far more than 40 hours per week as Supervisor. The Board acknowledged the need for full-time compensation for the Supervisor when it voted to approve the Fiscal Year End 2022 Budget. The current budget was approved unanimously by the entire Board on March 23, 2021. The Board appropriated a $72,000 annual salary for the Supervisor.
The Board delayed the second step of authorizing the salary because we were following bad advice that this action could apply retroactively. In the meantime, the Clerk proposed creating a compensation commission. The Board approved the compensation commission on June 22, 2021. We finally authorized the salary increase on August 17, 2021.
The controversy about the salary increase is puzzling to me and most of the Board who voted in favor of it. The supervisor’s work has been and continues to be more than full-time. The other officers, the clerk and treasurer have been and continue to be paid for their full-time work. The unanimously approved budget included a full-time salary, and yet, when that salary was authorized, the prior consensus vanished. A lawsuit was filed, and a recall campaign launched.
The Township finally hired a Township Administrator in November 2021, two years after the Township Manager position became vacant. This has allowed many operational oversight duties to shift back from the supervisor and clerk. There remains more than enough work to keep everyone busy full-time.
To settle the conflict about my pay, I proposed reducing the supervisor’s salary to $40,000. This is the salary that the Compensation Commission determined is an appropriate, part-time salary for the supervisor. In January 2021, the Board accepted my proposal to retroactively reduce my own salary beginning with the township administrator’s start date on December 1, 2021. I continue to work full-time for Scio Township, but I will honor the Compensation Commission’s December 2021 determination of a part-time salary.
Unfortunately, those advocating for the recall are not satisfied by this concession and promote other reasons to remove me from office.
Backlog of Meeting Minutes to Approve
The draft minutes for the August 17th and August 24th Board meetings were belatedly provided by the clerk on the day of the September 14th Board meeting. This last-minute production of the minutes was, itself, a violation of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) by the clerk. There was no time to review the minutes prior to the meeting, so they were tabled by a unanimous vote of all Board members, including the clerk.
When the Board did review the minutes, we found both the 8/17/21 and 8/24/21 minutes to be flawed. One problem is that some people are quoted at length while other people are not. This creates an imbalanced presentation of the debate.
Most of the Board requested that the minutes be revised. The clerk refused to do so. While the Board was arguing about how to fix the August minutes, other special and regular meetings occurred, and the backlog of unapproved minutes built up. The conflict dragged on for months and meeting minutes continued to arrive to the Board late. By the time we finally resolved the problem on December 28, 2021, the backlog was 15 sets of meeting minutes: eight regular meetings and seven special meetings. The disagreement with the clerk about the form of the minutes is ongoing, but the backlog has been dealt with.
Private Well Tests to Detect Groundwater Contamination
Recall petitioners have asserted that I was favored in having my household well tested as part of a Township initiative to detect dioxane groundwater contamination. This is simply untrue. Here is the background…As explained in a Township press release in fall 2021, many residential wells in Scio Township have been sampled for years to detect the presence of 1,4–dioxane as a result of the large plume of groundwater contamination caused by the former Gelman Sciences facility. The Michigan Department of Great Lakes, Environment and Energy (EGLE) contracts with the Washtenaw County Health Department (WCHD) to conduct long-term monitoring of drinking water wells around the plume. Drinking water wells within 1,000 feet of the estimated plume boundary are included in this state-funded monitoring. Approximately 218 drinking water wells are sampled either twice per year, once per year or every other year, depending on proximity to the plume and nearby detections. This sampling program has a detection limit of 1 ug/L (or part per billion).
Due to concerns about potential movement of the 1,4-dioxane plume to residential areas located north of M-14, Scio Township initiated its own well testing program, expanding on the state-funded program and using a testing method which detects 1,4-dioxane down to 0.12 ug/L, a significantly more sensitive testing method.
The area north of M-14 is a primary concern because of the spread of the plume in that direction. The EGLE/WCHD private well tests have been ongoing in that area, but they use a less precise test and limit the radius of their testing to within 1,000 feet of the edge of the plume. The information obtained from testing private wells is the only way the Township has to monitor the movement of the groundwater contamination in this area. The reason for doing this additional testing is to strengthen the Township’s argument for the creation of sentinel/monitoring wells at strategic locations to monitor the below ground movement of the dioxane more closely.
The original list of wells to be tested was compiled by Dan Bicknell in 2017, years before I had any thought of running for a Township office. I first saw the list in 2021, when Dan tried to revive the idea of the Township taking the lead on additional well testing using Method 522. As explained above, the Washtenaw County Health Department (WCHD) has been testing the private wells in my neighborhood for many years as part of a partnership with EGLE. This has nothing to do with who lives here, rather it is because of the neighborhood’s proximity to the edge of the detected groundwater 1,4 dioxane plume.
The wells to be tested were reviewed and selected by the environmental consultant working with the Township’s legal counsel on the Gelman matter. When the environmental consultant presented the list of private wells for the second round of testing a few weeks ago, I noticed that one of the houses is that of the Township Clerk. This, like the inclusion of my house on the original list, is a coincidence. Neither the Clerk nor I had prior knowledge that our wells would be tested. The selection of our wells has to do with 1) where we live in proximity to the Gelman groundwater contamination plume, and 2) the depth of our wells.
The Township plans to conduct additional well testing in the northeast sector. If you own property in that area and your well is one of those selected for testing, then you are a candidate to provide vital information that can benefit the community. It is a personal choice whether to have one’s well tested as part of this project. Under the circumstances, agreeing to have your well tested is a public service.
Public Comments at BOT Meetings
The recall campaigners have complained that they are prevented from speaking at Board meetings. They have even falsely claimed that their “free speech” rights were somehow violated. Here are the facts:Board of Trustees meetings occur twice a month. We often schedule additional “special meetings.” These Board meetings are the time when the elected representatives do the work of the Township. This work can only occur when Board members gather in sufficient number to form a quorum, deliberate, and vote. By law, every meeting of the Board of Trustees includes time for public comments, but the primary function of the meetings is for the Board to conduct Township business. Occasionally the Board goes into a “closed session” to confer with attorneys regarding litigation or a land purchase proposal from the Land Preservation Commission. Based on Rules of Order adopted by the Scio Board of Trustees on March 8, 2022, meetings currently afford members of the public, both in-person and via remote participation on Zoom, the opportunities to participate as follows:
- Two standing public comment opportunities, one near the beginning of the meeting and one at the end, allowing for public comment on any topic for up to 3 minutes.
- Additionally, public comment of up to 5 minutes per speaker is included in all instances of matters that require a Public Hearing or for any other reason for which we are required to do so by law.
Each member of the public can speak twice in any meeting on any topic, and, additionally, may also speak at Public Hearings as required by law. There are other ways for people to communicate with the Board (for example, by writing an email). The key point is that public comment is a required component of Board meetings, but the purpose of the meeting is for the Board to do its work, not to engage in dialogue with the public.
Special Assessment District (SAD) Process
I believe it is incumbent on an elected official to meet with citizens. I do so with residents of Scio Township who seek me out. In early 2021, weeks after taking office, I met with several Scio residents to discuss their ongoing effort to promote a road improvement Special Assessment District in their neighborhood. From the start I encouraged communication between neighbors. Due to COVID, these types of neighborly communications were a challenge.
Conflicts may arise among Township residents. In the case of the proposed Special Assessment District in the Delhi Mills section of the Township, that conflict pre-existed my election as Supervisor and so, could not have resulted from my involvement. The discussions of the Special Assessment District in question began years prior to my taking office. It is speculative whether the Township could have eased the conflict within that neighborhood through a different approach to advising the SAD proponents. Sometimes neighbors disagree.
In this instance, I met with proponents and opponents of the SAD. I attended the one in-person meeting of the entire neighborhood held at Delhi Park in June 2021. The meeting was well-attended and both those in favor and those opposed to the SAD were present. Neither I, nor the Board, ever acted on this SAD because it was withdrawn before the proponents circulated their petition.
The conflict was resolved by the SAD proponents’ decision not to go forward with their petition. Despite this outcome, there are those who had opposed the SAD who remain upset. As I sought to explain at the time, the SAD process was designed by the State to determine whether a clear majority of neighbors supports the special tax. In this case the majority opposed the SAD.
Finance Staffing Debate
There have been accusations about me and the Board of Trustees somehow preventing staffing to meet the needs of the finance department. When tempers flared, some Township officials made dramatic comments about Scio’s financial “crisis” and potential “bankruptcy.” Here is the truth.
The Board of Trustees has deliberated on various questions related to budget and finance functions of the Township since taking office in November 2020. An outside finance consulting firm, the Woodhill Group was already working under a contract with the Township at that time.
Throughout 2021, the Board has asked for financial reports and information about the capacities of existing Township finance employees and their workload, the kinds of information any decision-makers would seek prior to approving new hires. We did not receive the requested information from the Clerk. Despite this, the Board has hired several temporary, part-time budget and finances employees to meet specific accounting workload demands. One of these hires was proposed by the Clerk in August 2021. Another of these financial staffing hires came from the Treasurer in November 2021, but was opposed by the Clerk.
In 2022, the Board sought information about Township finance employees and their workload from the Township Administrator when he made a proposal to hire expensive outside consultants. Again, the Board did not receive the requested information. When the Board expressed doubts regarding the Township Administrator’s proposal to hire an expensive outside firm, the Administrator and Clerk used an emergency procurement policy to avoid asking for Board approval of a consulting contract. When the Board terminated the resulting “emergency” contract, the Township Administrator abruptly announced that he was quitting his job.
The Board has hired an Interim Township Administrator who is familiar with Scio Township and he is already moving to address the ongoing conflict over the finance staffing question.
The clerk has characterized her desire to have staff report to her and to hire particular staff as a statutory matter. It is not. There is no statutory authority related to staffing for Township officers except that the supervisor, clerk, and treasurer each has the authority to appoint a deputy. In Scio Township, all staff report upward to the Township Administrator. The individual in that position should take the lead in making finance staffing assignments and in determining whether to recommend additional hires.
Regarding the Township’s financial stability, we entered the current fiscal year with a general fund balance of over $7 million, enough to cover our general fund costs for a year and a half. The Township has a diversified tax base valued at over $1.4 billion. Despite some reckless over-statements, the Township is in a sound financial position. We are paying our bills and paying our employees. We will continue to obtain additional outside funding sources to help pay for various infrastructure improvements.
It is unfortunate that some people find it in their interest to tear down the Township and that they would falsely portray the Township as being in financial crisis. My hope is that we can put an end to this negative obstructionism so that Scio Township can more effectively move forward.