‘I don’t see going back to high salaries of the old days’

Plainfield Compensation Committee hears from Deputy Clerk, Treasurer

 

by BETH ALTENA

 

After an evening of hearing the minutia of the daily duties of the Deputy Clerk and Deputy Treasurer, Jon Rathbun summed up his opinion regarding the pay scales for the township clerk and treasurer. “I certainly don’t see going back to the high salaries of the old day, certainly not back to 2008.”

The meeting was one in a process of exploring appropriate pay for the positions of Clerk and Treasurer, which a prior board had reduced from over $60,000 and $80,000, plus benefits, to $32,000 and $20,000 without benefits. The clerk’s pay was temporarily reinstated earlier this year after Clerk Scott Harvey said services the public expects would be shut down because of lack of funding. He stated the board was acting illegally, hindering an elected official from performing his duties by failure to provide adequate funding.

The evening meeting on Thursday, February 7 began with an overview of the duties of Stephanie McMillen, Deputy Clerk. She explained that she was hired by Scott as deputy, and when his term ended, her position also expired. She said in March of last year she became, in addition to Deputy to the clerk, an employee of the township as assistant to the clerk. The Deputy Treasurer was also hired by the township at that time as assistant to the treasurer.

“The idea was to provide more consistency, so when the term ends our jobs don’t end,” McMillen explained. “Theoretically you could have someone new every four years and there could a learning curve there. That what was behind that change. For me, my duties have not changed.”

Township Superintendent Robert Homan explained how clerks and treasurers in Charter Townships are required by law to appoint deputies in case they become incapacitated. The purpose of the deputy is to have someone available who is able to take over the duties of either position. He said when the deputy and clerk make their appointments, they can choose anyone regardless of qualifications. The deputy serves solely at the pleasure of the treasurer and clerk and can be replaced at any time without any other authority than the official.

“The point is to not have a separate set of employees who can be fired at the whim of an elected official,” Homan explained. “The clerk and treasurer can fire their deputies, but as township employees, they can’t fire them.”

Jon Rathbun, who was chairing the meeting, reminded the committee and those in attendance that at the prior meeting the committee was told by Clerk Scott Harvey that he spends 30 hours a week performing statutory duties (those required by law for his office) and another 20 hours a week performing non-statutory duties such as farm market organization and cemetery business.

McMillen said Harvey usually works 40 hour work weeks unless there are night passport sales. She said last year was an unusual year for the office with five elections in 18 months. This year there are no elections scheduled, she stated.

She offered to spell out the duties of the office, which she performs and explain how much time is taken by each duty. Statutory duties of the Clerk are clearly spelled out, she noted.

Starting with the statutory requirement to keep voter registration information up to date, McMillen said she performs that task one day a month and does not count it as part of her weekly hours or schedule. She was asked how many of her 40 hours a week are spent on statutory duties and responded that she spends about ten percent of her time performing statutory work.

Rathbun asked her that, of her non-statutory work, if she is being supervised by the clerk as she performs her work. She responded that she has nothing to do with the Farmer’s Market work. “That is all Scott and Jim,” she stated.

Rathbun asked if the clerk is in the office 50 hours a week. McMillen stated both she and the clerk work 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. hours, with exceptions. “He usually leaves before me or at the same time,” she stated. “I can’t account for his hours. If he leaves during the day I don’t always know if it is for a meeting.”

Rathbun asked how much time McMillen estimates Harvey spends on statutory duties and she said “A few hours, maybe.” When pressed to be more specific, she said perhaps five hours a week and again offered to take the committee members through the specific statutory duties.

“One of the duties is to maintain records,” McMillen stated. “All the departments maintain their own records.” She said another requirement of the job is to take minutes of board meetings and record them, something that only happens twice a month. She thought this task each time took about an hour.

Another statutory requirement is the keeping of the oath book. Swearing in a new member takes “Two minutes, maybe five. It only happens when someone new is elected,” she explained. Posting minutes online takes maybe five minutes and also happens only twice a month after meetings.

The maintenance of the ordinance book takes just a few minutes, McMillen said. “You print it out, put it in the book.” She also noted that this also only happens when a new ordinance is passed. She said her explanation of duties does not count the work that goes into elections. “That’s a whole different animal,” she said.

Rathbun asked her to describe the work required by elections. “You spend a couple of months at it, but it is small things like putting in the ballot. The real work, she described, takes place two weeks before and about one week after an election.

McMillen described the offices partnership with Buildings and Grounds in performing cemetery duties. “We are the administrative side, they are the physical side, opening graves and installing monuments and doing groundskeeping.” She said the clerks office does the paperwork side of the job, scheduling burials and collecting payments. She said helping someone purchase a lot and make payments usually takes 15 to 20 minutes start to finish.

She was asked that if clerk’s office staff were out of the office, would the public be inconvenienced and she responded that there usually was someone around who could offer assistance.

Rathbun, apparently having heard enough, announced that he wanted to make a statement. “I’m not usually one to beat around the bush so I’ll just say it. In looking at what I see here for me it looks like you run the whole office.” McMillen said, “That’s pretty accurate.”

Rathbun went on to state that when the board made a motion to transfer the duties of the clerk to other departments under the direction of the Township Superintendent, they were warned that the other departments would be crippled by an overload of duties.

“It wouldn’t have a large impact,” McMillen stated. “A large variety of the duties already are being done by others than the clerk. Even if a handful went somewhere else it would be minimal.”

Rathbun pointed out that McMillen is already performing the duties in question and is certainly capable of continuing to do so if she is directed to by Homan. When asked if the change would be a hardship to the clerk’s office or cause an adversarial relationship, McMillen responded, “Scott has said if those duties are removed from the clerk’s office he won’t participate in those duties. I hope our relationship wouldn’t change. We work well together. I’d like to think we would work it out.”

The Deputy Treasurer, Cullin Chapple was up next, taking the “hot seat” for questioning by the committee. “What I did was take the statutory duties, list them, what my day looks like,” he said.

“As far as non-statutory duties, I don’t have any, except dog licenses. Everything I do is statutory duties. He said the majority of what he does has to do with the first statutory duty, the collection of real or personal property tax. He said this task is performed in issuing checks and making deposits. He said the statutory duty of investing is done by Warren Smith and Bill. He said he was never involved in that while former full-time treasurer Jim Stover was in office.

Jon explained that after Jim Stover resigned from the job to take another position, Jack Hagedorn took over the job and worked a part time schedule of about 12 hours a week. Chapple said he took over many of the jobs formerly performed by Stover and that Hagedorn, rather than doing the work himself was more of an overseer or mentor to the duties.

Rathbun asked if Chapple were performing the same duties under a part time treasurer as he is under Brinkman, who claims the job demands a full-time treasurer at the former pay scale of Stover. Chapple said his work, since the switch between Hagedorn and Brinkman, is “exactly the same.”

Homan said he wanted to clarify. “To be very specific, you weren’t given the opportunity to do certain duties [under Stover] but now you have learned them and you do them? Chapple affirmed the information, noting that he is a Certified Professional Treasurer for the State of Michigan, the Michigan version of national accreditation to be proficient at the job.

Warren Smith, Township Accounting Manager, said it is common for professional people within a township as large as Plainfield to do the duties of clerk and treasurer rather than the elected official. “A lot of things are done that way to make sure they are done correctly,” he stated. Smith said it is also good practice not to allow one person the ability to do too many things. He used the example of banking, which requires two people and wire transfers as another. The system is designed at the recommendation of auditors to keep one person from having the ability to “get away with something if they tried to.”

Homan said in summation that it is clear the township probably has room for improvements, there always is, but it certainly isn’t broke. He said the township is adequately staffed. He said in his 40 years in township government work he has seen staff added, but that coincided with the adding of services. “I don’t need three people in my office on the chance that someone might come in. We don’t have a lot of fat and fluff. We have shrunk over the last ten years.”

Rathbun said he had a few comments as well. “When I first became involved in April and May I had very little understanding. I thought the clerk and treasurer actually did all that work. I didn’t understand there was staff. I Clearly understand the strategy of the former board to break down these power structures that build up over time and cost the citizens of the township more money.”

He agreed with the decision to break down statutory and non-statutory duties and that having them spelled out clearly makes things “less political.”

“I certainly don’t see going back to the high salaries of the old day, certainly not going back to 2008,” he said.

Mike Dood, member of the Compensation Committee, said he appreciated the information regarding the work of non-statutory and statutory duties and as a former member of a school board saw the same scenario in place. “It took us about four years to get rid of the good old boys club and back to the people you hired to do the job. He stated, “As an elected official it is your job to do the job of the township, not the job of the people who elected you or a special interest group.”

 

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