Monthly Archives: August 2014

Oakland Township files lawsuit against Clinton River Watershed Council

At the August 12, 2014 Oakland Township Board meeting, the Board unanimously approved authorizing the Township attorney to file a ’cause of action’ suit against the Clinton River Watershed Council (CRWC).  This suit was reported in the August 27th Oakland Press.  Here is a link to the brief article on the Oakland Press website.

Oakland Press article

The Board’s reason for the suit is that they allege the CRWC breached a contract they believe the Township had with the CRWC regarding the Paint Creek Dam removal project. The CRWC is a non-profit organization that worked with the Department of Natural Resources to eliminate the dam on the Paint Creek.  The State of Michigan has established dam removal as a priority to improve the habitat and quality of the water in our streams and lakes.  The millrace is not considered a natural stream since it was created years ago to divert water from the Paint Creek to the Cider Mill location.  After the dam was removed, the elevation of the water feeding the Paint Creek Cider millrace was lower, as was expected.   

There are several individual properties that the millrace runs through.  When the dam was removed, water no longer flowed through their property.  The property owners claim that their property values have been diminished as a result of the dam removal.  One of the main reason that the water no longer flows down the millrace (in addition to the dam removal) is that the millrace has years of sediment buildup.  

Bob Yager, the Oakland Township resident that had been publishing ‘The Oakland Township Sentinel’, had pulled together a historical summary of the Millrace Project going back to 2011 based on Township records.  It is a lengthy document. A shorter summary is included later.  Here is a copy of Bob Yager’s document:

dam-millrace-history-bot-2011-14

I reviewed that document, and put together a simplified summary of the chronology of the millrace issue.  It is three pages long, but captures the key issues raised through September 2012.  

Millrace Chronology Summary

In reviewing the documented history, it is clear that the issue of years of sediment buildup in the millrace was raised several times.  In fact, the Clinton River Watershed Council raised that concern at the September 13, 2011 meeting.  Clarifying whose responsibility it was to dredge the millrace was never addressed.  The Clinton RIver Watershed Council never agreed that they would dredge the millrace.  Without the dredging of the millrace, it should come as no surprise that the millrace went dry (water does not flow up hill!).  

The affected citizens have been major supporters of the current Board.  The millrace issue played a role in the current Board being elected.  Many of the Board members ran on this issue in their campaign.

The Board only took 2 minutes to discuss and authorize the legal action.  Here is a video of the Board’s proceedings: 

As more information and court documents become available that information will be posted on this website.

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  Certainly the desirability of having the millrace transfer water to the Cider Mill could result in the Cider Mill wheel turning once again. This would restore some of the character of Goodison in our Township.  However, the major reason water is not flowing down the millrace is the buildup of many years of sediment in the millrace.  The fact remains that water will not flow down the millrace until the millrace is dredged.  The dredging requirement was raised long before the dam came down, yet no one appeared to determine whose responsibility is was to do that.  The previous Cider Mill owner appeared to solve the problem by placing ‘boards’  to raise the water level feeding the millrace.  This clearly has an impact on the creek’s water level for upstream residents.

Hopefully our Township attorney’s opinion is on ‘solid’ legal ground, and we are not proceeding just for the Board’s political reasons to appease a very vocal number of residents impacted by the dam removal.

If our attorney is not on ‘solid’ legal ground, his recommendation, and Board’s action will not only have destroyed any working relationship between the Township and the agencies involved, but will add to the coffers of his Legal firm, AT OUR EXPENSE!  It would probably have been cheaper for the Township to pay for the dredging of the millrace (we have already incurred many thousands of dollars in legal fees on this issue). The initial estimate for dredging the millrace was $250,000.

When we are all done, we may spend considerably more than $250,000 and not have accomplished ANYTHING.

Richard Michalski

Does Oakland Township’s Clerk, Karen Reilly, have any thoughts of her own?

EDITORIAL COMMENT

For those of you who have been to, or watched, Oakland Township Board meetings since November of 2012 you may have noticed that Karen Reilly, our Clerk, rarely contributes to the Board’s discussions.  The meeting on August 12, 2014 had an agenda full of substantive topics, most notably the appointment of many new individuals to various Boards and Commissions.  NOT A SINGLE COMMENT was made by Karen Reilly during the entire 4 1/2 hour meeting.

During the December 7, 2013 Board meeting, when the Board was interviewing candidates for the Township Manager position, one of the candidates asked each Board member why they ran for office.  Karen’s response was:

In an earlier 2013 meeting, shortly after taking office, Karen explained why she did not participate in a State supported training session for Township Clerks.  Karen had no experience in Township Clerk responsibilities, and clearly had no desire to get a better understanding of the Clerk’s responsibilities.  Here is her statement:

As reported in a previous post on this website, she did respond (on a ‘live’ microphone prior to the beginning of a Board meeting) to former Trustee McKay on why the minutes of closed meetings do not have any documentation of what was discussed during the meeting.

Her ‘off the record’, open microphone comments show she is articulate so maybe her ‘on the record’ silence can be understood via her comment:

“…the point is you don’t want to put too much in there. Because… whatever you say can be held against you. The less you have in there the better off you are…”.

Is she self-editing her participation at our Board meetings because she feels her ideas are dangerous or unacceptable to our community? 

There are certainly differences between introverts and extroverts on how they act in public.  However, I believe that when a citizen runs for public office, even an introvert should be expected to explain the rationale for taking a position on an issue.  Karen never explains the rationale for her votes.

As you know, Karen’s husband, John, ran for the State Representative seat in the 46th district in the August primary.  In early 2014, I asked John if he would include me on distribution to the Oakland Township Republican meetings that he chairs.  I did attend one of these meetings in January of 2014 when I found out about it.  This is one of the meetings that Karen referenced in her ‘reason’ for running for office.  One of the agenda items at that meeting was:

  • The Republican establishment’s “war” on tea party and libertarians at both the national and state levels 

Several Oakland Township Precinct delegates attended as well as our Supervisor, several other Board members, our state representative Tom McMillin, and various citizens .

Before John would add me to his distribution list, he wanted to know where and why I stood on a number of political issues.  I found his requirement strange and inappropriate.  He responded by saying he was “surprised” that I found his request inappropriate. It was clear he was not interested in having an open discussion in his meetings.  He wanted to understand my (an unelected citizen) thoughts on issues, before he (an elected precinct captain) would include me on distribution.  I refused to participate in his exclusionary forum.

What is the linkage between Karen Reilly’s lack of comments at Board meetings and John’s requirement?  I think the citizens of Oakland Township deserve some insight into the thought process of our elected Clerk.  Karen needs to express the rationale for her taking the positions she takes.  John’s requirement for similar information from a private citizen was inappropriate.

From my perspective Karen either does not have any thoughts of her own, or is afraid to express them.  Is she following what her husband tells her to do, what Supervisor Gonser tells her to do?  Is she living by her own advice “whatever you say can be held against you (or her husband)”? Is she trying to minimize any political damage she could create for her husband’s political aspirations since she ran for office because of his involvement in politics?

At any rate, the citizens deserve to have a better understanding of what our Clerk ‘really’ thinks on issues.

Here are several related articles:

Is Oakland Township’s leadership part of the Republican Party “establishment”?

Supervisor Gonser’s REAL views on trails, pathways, bike paths and environmental protection

Richard Michalski

Gonser suggests a $16,000 annual cap on employee health benefits

8/26/14 Update After receiving thoughtful comments and email from several people I believe Gonser may have misspoke about a potential hard cap on the employee benefit plan.  He probably intended to say that the Township’s liability for the premiums for the plan may be limited to $16,000/yr.

Thank you Patricia, Marty, Thomas and Phillip for your willingness participate in our efforts to inform our community about our local government.

Jim Foulkrod

 

At the August 12, 2014 Board meeting Supervisor Gonser suggested that, in its search for a less costly employee health plan, the board could consider a plan that caps the amount of annual benefits at $16,000.  No member of the board spoke against his idea even though it could mean financial ruin for any employee of average means who had even a moderately serious health problem.  I was struck by how his meager $16,000 cap would have served a member of my immediate family who,  in June, fell, broke her leg and required surgery.  Her hospitalization, surgery and rehabilitation has, as of 7/29,  cost over $141,000.   If an Oakland Township employee had sustained this accidental injury and was subject to Gonser’s proposed $16,000 annual cap, the employee would need to pay over $125,000. 

This is another example of why, months ago, the Board of Trustees wisely refused to delegate any administrative responsibilities to Supervisor Gonser.  Township Manager Ann Capela retains  responsibility for all the administrative duties enumerated in state law.  So where does Gonser come up with  the authority and audacity to embarrass the whole Township with such mean-spirited, insensitive and draconian pronouncements?

It is time for the Board of Trustees to enforce their decision and reign-in the Supervisor.  He, by law and our Board’s actions, should only chair the meetings, do photo-ops and ride in the Christmas Parade.  Manager Capela, under direction of the entire Board, should  have full authority over the Township administration.

Jim Foulkrod

Here is the video containing Gonser’s remarks and discussion by the Board.

 

Oakland Township’s controversial Planning Commission appointments

As reported previously on this website, there were three new Planning Commission appointments made at the August 12, 2014 Oakland Township Board meeting.  These three new appointments are in addition to two other recent appointments (Hein and Giannangeli).  There was considerable controversy over Supervisor Gonser’s nominees, but in the end, all three were appointed.  All were appointed though split decision votes.  The issues raised were:

  • Appointing a non-resident to the commission
  • Appointing a builder and real estate broker to the commission
  • Lack of planning experience on Commission, with 5 new commission members, as Township begins Master Planning process
  • Lack of geographic diversity – 5 of 7 commissioners are now from the Southwest quadrant of Township
  • Lack of age diversity
  • Lack of gender diversity
  • Concern over Gonser’s yet undisclosed ‘goals’ for his Master Plan ‘vision’
  • Concern that some of the individuals appointed “are going to do something for him (Gonser)”
  • Appointing an individual that admitted not having the time to fulfill his previous responsibilities as a Tax Board of Appeals member
  • Lack of using a robust selection process 

These concerns were raised by several Board members as well as concerned citizens, yet the majority of the Board approved Gonser’s nominees.

Planning Commission Chairperson, Jim Carter, made several recommendations for the Board to consider before making any appointments.  He indicated that these had previously been communicated to Supervisor Gonser.  He read the statutory requirements for the Board’s appointments to the Planning Commission.  Here are his recommendations:

  • Experience – consider reappointment of current commissioners since Township Master Plan is under review and there are already two inexperienced Planning Commission members
  • Training – nominees should attend state sponsored Planning Commission training
  • Geographic diversity – have representation from all quadrants of Township
  • Gender diversity – include women for appointment
  • Age diversity – include range of ages

Jim concluded by stating:

“New candidates are being considered as a result of the Supervisor’s desire to his stated goal of ‘Going in a new direction’.  Please consider the qualifications based on good Planning rather than political motivations.”

Danny Beer nomination

Supervisor Gonser nominated Danny Beer, who is NOT a resident of Oakland Township, but owns Lyon Gear in the Southwest Quadrant of the Township.

Treasurer Langlois stated:

“Until we have exhausted every avenue for putting a resident on the Planning Commission, we do not need to look outside the Township.”

Trustee Bailey concurred.

During Citizen comments on this appointment, Frank Ferriolo stated:

“This appointment is the antitheses of what . . .  how this Planning Commission should be placed.”

“This representation of an overweighted section of the Southwest is incredible.”

“He (Gonser) obviously has a ‘goal’ here. Some of the people that he is appointing are going to do something FOR him.”

Reg Brown, a resident that had taken a 7 week class on Planning at his own expense, stated:

“I previously asked (the Board) that Mr. Carter (PC chair) present a summary of people who are currently on the Planning Commission so the Ordinance can be complied with. For some reason, that has never been done.  I think more work is needed on this.”

The vote for filling this position was then taken.  Danny Beer was appointed by a 4 to 3 vote.  Gonser, Reilly, Thalmann and Giannangeli voted in support.  Buxar, Bailey and Langlois voted against the appointment.

Gary Kwapis nomination

Supervisor Gonser nominated , Gary Kwapis, an Architect who lives in the Southwest quadrant of the Township to replace Barbara Wolak.

Janine Saputo (one of only two women on previous PC) reiterated the recommendations made by Chair Jim Carter, and asked the Board consider reappointment of Barbara Wolak to the Planning Commission.

During citizen comments, Frank Ferriolo stated:

“We are looking at a Master Plan going forward where we need HISTORY.  Look at what you are creating.”

Reg Brown stated:

“Experience is valuable!”

Trustee Buxar expressed concern over the makeup of the Commission:

“Five of seven members live in the Southwest quadrant of Township.”

Treasure Langlois stated:

“Right now between the 6 sitting Planning Commission members we do have representation from all four quadrants of the Township.  That will drop to two, and we will have five (with Gonser’s other nominee included) from one, one from another, and one from outside the Township.  THAT IS NOT BALANCED TO ME!”

She went on to say:

“Having been on the Planning Commission briefly, I think Planning Commission experience is valuable.  I would have grave concerns about a Planning Commission with very little Planning Commission experience.”

Langlois did say that she would support Gary, but would not vote for another person from the Southwest Quadrant of the Township.

The vote for filling this position was then taken.  Gary Kwapis was appointed by a 5 to 2 vote. Gonser, Reilly, Thalmann, Langlois and Giannangeli voted in support.  Buxar and Bailey voted against the appointment.

Anthony Scaccia nomination

Supervisor Gonser nominated, Anthony Scaccia, a Builder and Real Estate Broker who lives in the Southwest quadrant of the Township to replace Roger Shultze.  Anthony is also currently an appointee to the Tax Board of Review. After his introduction, Anthony admitted that he was not able to ‘focus fully’ on his responsibilities on the Tax Board of Review because his clients were ‘trying to reach him’ during the reviews.

Here are Anthony’s comments:

“It has been very difficult  for me to focus fully on what I have been doing at the Board of Review because it was happening during the daytime hours when I have a lot of clients trying to reach me.”

He went on to say that he wanted to support the Township, but on a different Board “when I would not have to be available during the day.”

Treasurer Langlois commented:

“The business he conducts in the Township would put….there would be a number of instances where he would have to recuse himself from something, or there would be the appearance that his vote or decisions were based on his business, and I don’t think we need that in the Township.”

Trustee Bailey said:

“As a former Planning Commission member for 20 years, I must say that I do object to having a Planning Commissioner where his day job is being a builder… Their point of view is going to be biased……”

Resident Frank Ferriolo commented that the Planning Commission is going to be ‘out of balance’.  He went on to say that the only time he has seen Mr. Scaccia at Township meetings is after Gonser asked Scaccia if he would consider being appointed to the Township Board (McKay replacement) or Planning Commission (Roger Shultze replacement).

The vote for filling this position was then taken.  Anthony Scaccia was appointed by a 4 to 3 vote. Gonser, Reilly, Thalmann and Giannangeli voted in support. Langlois, Buxar and Bailey voted against the appointment.

The Planning Commission is now populated with 5 new Gonser appointments.  Danny Beer does not live in the Township, but his business is in the Southwest quadrant of the Township.

Here is a map showing where the previous Planning Commission members lived: (click on map to enlarge)

Previous PC representation

Here is a map showing where the current Planning Commission members live: (click on map to enlarge)

New PC represetation

 

Clearly the Planning Commission no longer has the geographic diversity that Planning Commission Chair Carter had requested.  In fact, Jim Carter’s recommendations fell on ‘deaf ears’.

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  Gonser has stated he wants to take the Planning Commission in a ‘new direction’.  He has not publicly stated what his ‘vision’ is, however, he has told Planning Commissioner Ron Hein that he intends to provide the Planning Commission with ‘strategic direction’ to use in formulating our new Township Master Plan.  The Master Plan has historically been a ‘bottoms up’, citizen input process.  Gonser will now make this a ‘top down’ process.

Gonser now has five members of the Commission that may fulfill Frank Ferriolo prediction:

“He (Gonser) obviously has a ‘goal’ here. Some of the people that he is appointing are going to do something FOR him.”

The citizens of Oakland Township need to get involved in the Master Planning process so it does not become “Gonser’s Plan” based on input from builders, and real estate brokers.  Your input is critical!

One final point.  I was a member of the Tax Board of Review in the 80’s.  I was also a member of the Planning Commission for over 26 years.  Anthony Scaccia’s assumption that the Planning Commission appointment will be less demanding of time is not based on fact.  His appointment to the Commission not only violates the appearance of a conflict of interest, but raises questions why the Board would have appointed someone who has already demonstrated that he cannot commit the time to a previously appointed position.

Richard Michalski

Here are some related articles:

Supervisor Gonser attempts to influence Planning Commission’s Master Plan

Supervisor Gonser demonstrates his lack of knowledge of Oakland Township Zoning

Did Supervisor Gonser try to mislead the citizens, or was he ignorant of the facts?

Supervisor Gonser’s REAL views on trails, pathways, bike paths and environmental protection

Preferential treatment of large land owners

Are you a “subdivision rat”? Supervisor Gonser expresses his opinion!

Here is a video or the Board meeting discussions described above:

 

Supervisor Gonser demonstrates his lack of sensitivity and professionalism

Actions vs words icon

At the beginning of the August 12, 2014 Oakland Township Board meeting, Planning Commission Chair, Jim Carter, made a request of Supervisor Gonser to allow him to comment on the Planning Commission appointments that were going to be discussed later on the agenda.  Typically these comments would be heard when the agenda item came up. Jim asked if he could provide his input during the ‘Citizen Comments’ portion of the agenda, since his father-in-law was in the hospital’s intensive care unit with ‘his chest open’.  He clearly wanted to get to the hospital, but indicated that he would stay if Gonser would not allow him to speak at that time.

Amazingly, Supervisor Gonser wanted Jim to stick around and make his comments later in the meeting.  Fortunately, Treasurer Langlois and Trustee Buxar intervened and asked Gonser to allow Jim to speak so he could leave.  Gonser then reconsidered and allowed Jim to make his comments.  

Later in the meeting, Gonser made negative comments about how the Planning Commission has treated citizens.  He stated that “citizens were treated very disrespectfully”.  Does Gonser’s treatment of Jim Carter seem “respectful” to you?

Here is a short video of that interaction:

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  This incident is yet another example of our Supervisor’s lack of sensitivity and his desire to have things ‘his way’.  How would you have responded to Jim Carter’s request?  I think very few people would have made the decision Gonser made.  Gonser’s decision provides some insight into his true character.  Also, his comments regarding citizen treatment at the Planning Commission are not founded in fact.  Any person who has participated or watched the Planning Commission meetings knows that Jim Carter is the epitome of professionalism –  A characteristic that is absent in several of our Board members,  most notably Supervisor Gonser.

RIchard Michalski

Are you a “subdivision rat”? Supervisor Gonser expresses his opinion!

At the August 12, 2014 Board meeting, during the discussion regarding the various appointments to the Planning Commission, Supervisor Gonser shared his perspective on living in a subdivision.  He indicated that when he moved back to Oakland Township from Indianapolis, he did not want to be a ‘subdivision rat’ so he moved to an acreage parcel.  His comment is very insightful into his thinking.  Please watch the following excerpt from the meeting:

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  As stated previously on this website, Supervisor Gonser wants to provide the Planning Commission ‘his vision’ for what our future Master Plan should be.  Do you want our Master Plan to reflect his contemptuous perspective on how many of us chose to live in our Township.  Here is previous post:

Supervisor Gonser attempts to influence Planning Commission’s Master Plan

Richard Michalski

Township Board makes significant changes to several Boards and Commissions

At the August 12, 2014 BOT meeting, the Township Board made a number of appointments that, according to Supervisor Gonser, will have a significant impact on the character of our Township.  There were three appointments to the Planning Commission, one appointment to the Zoning Board of Appeals and one appointment to the Tax Board of Review.  None of the Planning Commission appointments were unanimously approved.  The other two appointments were unanimously approved .

At two points during the meeting, Supervisor Gonser stated that per Michigan statutes, the Supervisor “appoints the candidates subject to the Board’s approval”, indicating that only he has the authority to nominate the individuals for the positions.  

There will be another post on this website sharing the concerns raised by several Board members and citizens over the appointment of the Planning Commission members.

Here are the names and credentials for the various appointments:

Planning Commission Appointments

Danny Beer- approved 4 to 3

  • President of Lyon Gear in Goodison
  • Grew up in Goodison
  • Currently not a resident of Oakland Township
  • Lives in Clarkston, Michigan

Gary Kwapis-approved 5 to 2

  • Lives in Oakland Township off Orion Rd in Southwest quadrant of Township
  • Architect
  • Owner of Hein and Kwapis Architects P. C.

Anthony Scaccia- approved 4 to 3

  • Lives in Oakland Township near Silverbell and Gunn in Southwest quadrant of Township
  • Home builder
  • Real Estate broker
  • Former member of Tax Board of Review

Zoning Board of Review

Lawrence Tomczak- approved 7 to 0

  • Lives in Oakland Township near Silverbell and Gunn in Southwest quadrant of Township
  • Engineer
  • Previous member of Subdivision architectural review board

Tax Board of Review

Sandra Stefanski- approved 7 to 0

  • Lives in Oakland Township’s near Silverbell and Adams in Southwest quadrant of Township
  • Worked for AT&T
  • Previously ran two small businesses

There will be an additional post regarding the concerns of several Board members over the appointment of the Planning Commission members.

Here is a video of the introductory comments the appointees made at the August 12th meeting:

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  The appointments to the various Boards and Commissions are very important to the citizens because these individuals will be making decisions that will impact the residents of our Township.  In particular, the Planning Commission appointments are very important since we are currently involved in reviewing and updating our Master Plan.  The Planning Commission will now have only two people with any Planning training as the Township undertakes this critical process.

Richard Michalski