Non-statutory duties removed from Clerk’s office
By BETH ALTENA
The newly elected members of the Plainfield Township Board were asked to consider—in their first meeting as elected official—a resolution to double the pay of Township Clerk Scott Harvey for compensation for non-statutory duties and entitle him to full benefits, and a similar proposal for the newly-elected Treasurer Bill Brinkman. The resolution for the treasurer’s position would raise the salary from the current amount of $20,000 to $52,000 and entitle him to full benefits as well. Former Township Supervisor George Meek called the proposed increases “ludicrous, egregious and extremely self-serving” in a letter he sent to the board.
Beginning an evening of scathing comments, Debbie Hagedorn, wife of former Treasurer Jack Hagedorn, who lost to Brinkman in the primary election this year, called the proposals “outright stealing from taxpayers.” She said both elected officials were aware of the pay for
each of the two positions when they campaigned and took them to task for asking three brand-new board members to make such a significant change before they have an opportunity to understand the implications of the vote.
The agenda for the Monday, December 3, meeting also included a report by Art Spalding, who is chair of the committee to find a replacement for the township Superintendent, Robert Homan, who has announced plans to retire in March of 2013. Spalding said his committee familiarized themselves with the duties of the Superintendent, who functions as a full-time township manager. Committee members also considered whether it is in the township’s interest to continue to have a manager as opposed to a full-time Supervisor, an elected official who would function as a township manager. Homan has been the township’s Superintendent for the past 16 years.
“I believe all the members of the committee believe we should continue with our present structure of government,” Spalding stated. He said it wouldn’t save the township money to switch to an elected supervisor to replace the superintendent. “Someone will still have to perform the duties, and still be compensated for that.” He also said the position would lose the level of accountability it has now with a Superintendent that is answerable to the board and operates under the board’s direction. “I wonder who would supervise the supervisor,” he said.
“It’s no secret that I have been for a long time a supporter of a superintendent in a township, philosophically and governmentally,” he said. He said the current method of operation has been an effective method of operation for the past sixteen years and he asked the board to approve a contract with the Michigan Municipal League to assist in the search for Homan’s replacement.
Brinkman said he was not in favor of continuing to have a full-time superintendent and praised Homan for the work he has done for the township. He said now that the township’s infrastructure was established, the work Homan does is no longer needed. “Bob was a man of his time but now his time is past,” he stated. Brinkman said he believes the elected officials are up to the task of running the township. “Why not let the elected officials take those duties? Do we need this? If that is the case, why have elected officials?”
Jonathan Rathbun, one of the returning trustees along with Vic Matthews, responded to Brinkman. He said he is on the committee to find Homan’s replacement and said he didn’t believe the citizens who voted in the new board did so with any expectation that they would change the structure of the township’s government. “First of all I think the people of Plainfield Township voted in a supervisor with the expectation that the current structure be left in place.”
Rathbun, who was appointed to the trustee position to replace Jack Hagedorn when he was appointed Treasurer mid term due to the retirement of James Stover, said he is still learning about the intricacies of township government after his six months as trustee. He said he disagreed with Brinkman’s comment that the township’s infrastructure is in place, therefore done. “Infrastructure is always expanding,” Rathbun said.
David Grant, newly elected trustee, said he was originally reluctant regarding the township keeping a superintendent, but attended the committee meetings to educate himself about the issue. “I can’t imagine we’d be in a position to navigate that without guidance,” he stated. “After attending those meetings I support having a full time superintendent.”
Scott Harvey said over his past four years he has seen Robert Homan struggle to receive support from the board. He said if Jay Spencer (newly elected supervisor) were to tell him he was fully qualified to take on the duties of superintendant, he would support that.
“When I made the decision to run for office, it was not under the guise of being a full time supervisor,” Spencer said. He said the township should continue the process of seeking a new superintendent. The board voted and approved a motion that they support having a superintendent in leadership for the township. Brinkman was the lone no vote.
Harvey next brought up the agenda item regarding the ancillary duties to the clerk’s office. Two weeks prior, at the last meeting of the former board, a proposal to move the ancillary clerks duties to the direction of the superintendent was tabled because there has been no documentation what exactly those duties were, who was performing them and how many hours of work they required.
Harvey said he has been performing those duties since November 20 was he was sworn in as clerk for his second year but with a reduction in pay to reflect just the statutory duties of the office (those required by the clerk’s office by law). He said he is frustrated there has been no report about the nature and specifics of the ancillary duties and the resolution to double his pay, from $32,000 to $64,000 and award him full benefits was a move to “force the hand of the board.”
“This would put the salary back to what it was in 2008 when I came on board.” He said the current situation is “just not planned out,” and he would hate the citizens of Plainfield Township to be without the services performed as those ancillary duties. He said his current pay is unfair. He stood and gave a presentation about how much money he has saved the township, comparing the four year term prior to his election to the last four year term while he was in office.
A woman from the audience said she thanked Harvey for listing his statutory duties, but pointed out that the current discussion was regarding pay for non-statutory duties. “They are not identified for the taxpayers,” she said. She said that transparency is terribly important in government and Harvey was asking for double the compensation without providing any information.
Ken Chester said the resolution should be voted down because it held no merit. “You used the term fair,” Chester stated. “Nothing is fair. When a government official talks about fairness, the first thing I want to do is grab my wallet and run.” He also took exception to information in the board’s packet provided by Harvey with figures Chester said are not truthful. He said Harvey reminds him of “Where’s Waldo” because he can never be found at work. “He says he works all these hours but we have to take his word for it.”
Another resident said he agreed with the last two speakers. “What bothers me, Mr. Harvey, is you took this job knowing what it pays. Now you jump right into this after just two meetings.” When he was informed that this was the new board’s first meeting, he commented, “That’s even worse. I don’t understand it. I understand you want more money, and if you can justify it, fine. We still have to look at things very closely. I think this is ill advised.”
Debbie Hagedorn returned to the podium, and asked why the residents of the township need to pay Harvey and Brinkman—who has no non-statutory duties—a million dollars, the figure she said their pay and benefits would cost during the course of their terms. She said there are other people available in the township to do non-statutory duties. She identified running the farm market as one of the non-statutory duties Harvey was talking about and said the market already had a manager who was paid $12,000 a year. She questioned why Harvey should consider the market one of the duties for which he should be compensated.
Trustee Vic Matthews stood and gave a presentation where he disputed the one made earlier by Harvey, claiming the figures Harvey presented were either incorrect or misleading. He turned to the audience, and stated that any resident at any time could come to the township and examine the budget for any year to gather their own facts.
Rathbun said the board has yet to see a list of the duties Harvey was talking about. He said the clerk has no authority to assign to himself non-statutory duties. “Residents of the township elected a clerk, expecting a job to be performed at a salary that was clearly defined. The job is clearly described as part time.” He said he did not support the board acting prematurely, especially with a new board that has not had time to familiarize themselves with this issue. He asked if Homan would be able to manage the non-statutory duties of the clerk’s office should they be assigned to him.
“It’s always been somewhere in the back of my mind,” Homan said. He said he has always stood ready to assume the non-statutory duties should they be assigned to him. He said he would expect the full cooperation of the clerk’s office and that he would naturally assume those duties with no additional compensation.
Dale Pomeroy, newly-elected trustee, expressed misgivings over the resolution. “We’ve only been given this tonight,” he said. “I don’t think we would do the public justice to pass this at this time.” The board made a motion to table the resolution to double the clerk’s salary and award benefits until the issue could be more fully examined. Brinkman and Harvey voted no, the rest voted for tabling.
Brinkman began with his explanation why the pay for his treasurer duties should jump from $20,000 to $53,000 plus full benefits. “I have no non-statutory duties. I have only statutory duties and they have penalties. If they aren’t done I could go to jail.”
He went on to explain that all finance people are well paid. “It is well known in money management that you make sure the people who manage your money are well paid. Why would you want to play Russian roulette with your taxpayer dollars?” He went on to say since gaining office on November 20 he has come to believe the township financial situation is not only not under control, but is not even being attempted to control. He said there was no way he could perform the job of treasurer in just twelve hours a week.
Resident Ken Chester said his profession is placing people in jobs and he has never heard of someone taking a job and then, two weeks later, demanding more than double the pay. He said as a financial expert Brinkman should have very well known what the job entailed, and if he didn’t he had no excuse. He wanted to know, if Brinkman was incompetent to do the job, how come more than doubling the salary would make him competent.
Jonathan Rathbun said the statutory duties of the treasurer are very well spelled out and the voters elected a treasurer to work for $20,000 a year and that there was no restriction to just twelve hours a week. He said he has talked to the treasurer’s staff and there have been no problems with a part time treasurer.
Vic Matthews said Brinkman campaigned on the grounds that he would be a much better treasurer than the former treasurer, Jack Hagedorn. The board voted to table the resolution to increase the treasurer’s pay and award benefits.
At board comments, Harvey complained that he has been warning about how poorly run the township’s finances are, and this is more of the same. Homan read a letter of congratulations from a regulatory agency commending the township on receiving high honors for the way the township’s finances are handled. It specifically praise Warren Smith, the township’s financial manager, and said few townships ever receive such recognition for financial excellence. It noted that not only has Plainfield Township received this award more than once, but that this is the eleventh year in a row the township has been recognized with this award.