As reported recently, the second lawsuit against Oakland Township over the Blossom Ridge Development was filed on December 11, 2014. One of the claims made in the filing is that:
“The Township’s disregard of and seeming inability to comprehend its FHA obligations is systematic and pervasive”
The above claim is based a Board decision at the December 10, 2013 Board meeting to have the Parks Commission ‘refrain’ from making an offer to a potential caretaker for the Lost Lake Park. This individual was the choice of the Parks and Recreation Commission. The Board’s concern was the potential liability of extending this job to the recommended person since the family had young children.
Fortunately, the Parks Commission had performed their ‘due diligence’ in getting input from the Township’s Insurance company as well as the Park Commission’s Attorney, and proceeded with their selection. Had the Park’s Commission rejected the selected caretaker based on the Township Board’s concern, the Township could have been charged with violating the Elliot Larson Act for using familial status as a reason for not hiring the caretaker.
Here is the information included in the Moceri/DM investment LLC and Joan Buser vs. Charter Township of Oakland filing – 12/11/14:
- The Township’s disregard of and seeming inability to comprehend its FHA obligations is systematic and pervasive as evidenced by the following illustration.
- The Township owns a park with a house on a lake.
- For years the Township leased the house to a caretaker who lived in the house and maintained the house and park.
- In 2013 the Township Parks and Recreation Department hired a new caretaker and as usual agreed to the caretaker’s occupancy of the house.
- On December 10, 2013, twenty minutes after voting to deny a reasonable accommodation for the disabled prospective residents of Blossom Ridge, Board of Trustees Member and Township Treasurer Jeanne Langlois moved to set aside the Parks Commission’s hiring of the caretaker because the caretaker has a family including two young children, starting the following exchange:
Treasurer Langlois: Move that the Board make a review of that potential situation [a lease of Twp property to a Family with Minor Children]…and make a motion to authorize the Township Supervisor to formally request that the Parks and Recreation Commission refrain from entering into a caretaker contract until the liability issues can be reviewed by the Township insurance agent and Township legal counsel.
Trustee Bailey: Is this the first that you’re aware of that we have done such a thing [lease to a family with minor children]?
Treasurer Langlois: Yes, I understand there was a caretaker in the past, there were no minor children that I know of and then the initial approval recently was for a new caretaker that did not involve a family with minor children and when that fell through this apparently prompted the Parks [commission] to look at family with 2 very small children.
Trustee Bailey: How small are they?
Treasurer Langlois: Six and two.
- The Langlois motion was approved unanimously.
- No Board Member mentioned the protection of families with children against housing discrimination under Federal and Michigan law. No one ventured a thought as what this action’s impact on the caretaker and his family. The caretaker would be deprived of both housing and employment. The Board wondered whether their insurance rates might be affected. They did not consider that children play in the park everyday. The Board thoughtlessly assumed that landlords of properties fronting Michigan’s 11,000 inland lakes and thousands of miles of Great Lakes shoreline are exempt from Federal and Michigan laws prohibiting discrimination against families with children.
- The foregoing episode illustrates the current Township Board’ impenetrable indifference to its fair housing obligations. To its credit the Parks Commission ignored the Board.
Here is a copy of the Michigan Elliott-Larson Civil RIghts Act.
Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township? Only the court will determine if the example shown above will have an impact on the final decision regarding Blossom Ridge. However, another conclusion can be made from this example.
Ever since early 2013, the Township Board and the Parks and Recreation Commission have had separate law firms providing legal guidance. The decision by the Parks Commission to retain their own counsel was based the Board’s confrontational actions toward the Parks Commission (some of which are involved in legal actions BETWEEN the two elected bodies).
Examples of the Board’s confrontational actions against the Parks and Recreation Commission can be seen by scrolling through the articles in the following link (this article is the first one shown, so please scroll through the entire list):
Trustee Thalmann consistently points out, during her “Trustee Comments” at Board meeting, the legal expense that the Parks Commission has incurred for the month. The contract with the Board’s legal team technically includes legal support for the Parks and Recreation Commission. She claims that the Park’s legal expenses are not necessary, since they would be covered by the contract with the Board’s legal team. It should be pointed out the the Board’s legal team did not advise the Board against making their December 10, 2013 motion.
It appears that the Parks Commission’s legal counsel, and the decision by the Parks Commission to proceed with extending the offer to the family with children, may have prevented the Township from a lawsuit involving a Elliott-Larson civil rights violation.
Oakland Township’s legal expense has increased dramatically since the new Board has come into office. The legal fees incurred by the Parks Commission are totally eclipsed by the legal fees incurred as a result of lawsuits our Township is involved in since the new Board took office.
The Township should be grateful for the actions taken by the Parks and Recreation Commission based on the legal advice from their separate legal counsel.