Monthly Archives: September 2015

Insight into Supervisor Gonser’s thinking

A recent post on the Oakland Township Sentinel website provides some insight into Supervisor Gonser’s thinking on a number of issues.

Supervisor Gonser sent a  letter to Mr. Yager (the editor of the website) in response to a plea from Mr. Yager to do a better job of controlling personal attacks during Board meetings.  Mr. Zale, the current chairperson of the Parks and Recreation Commission, has recently been very aggressive in ‘shutting down’ any attempt by citizens or Commission members from making personal attacks.  Gonser’s letter is lengthy and touches on:

  • His thoughts on his ‘legacy’ as Supervisor
  • Why he ran for office
  • His perspective on the reasons for the lack of progress within the Township
  • His thoughts on our Township’s form of governance
  • His vision of leadership
  • Civility in our Township
  • Ethics

If you are interested in learning more about how Mr. Gonser thinks, please click on the link at the end of this post, it will take you to the article referenced above.  

Please read my comments in response to Mr. Gonser’s perspective on a number of items, in particular the specific events referenced in the ‘ethics’ response. These events were major factors in why the “Oakland Township Watcher” website has continued to monitor what goes on in our Township, and are all documented on this website.

Supervisor Gonser Clarifies His Views on Township Manager, Civility and Other Topics

Richard Michalski

Township Board selects new Township manager

At a special Oakland Township Board meeting held on September 28, 2015, the Board interviewed and selected Dale Stuart as our new Township Manager for a term through March of 2017.

The Oakland Township Board extended an offer to Mr. Dale Stuart for the position of Oakland Township manager through March of 2017.  Mr. Stuart accepted the offer and agreed to start immediately. Mr. Stuart will be the 4th manager in 3 years in that position.  The previous 3 managers all resigned.

Mr. Stuart is familiar with Oakland County and lives in Clarkston. His resume includes:

  • Elected Township Supervisor of Charter Township of Independence for 12 years.
  • Elected Township Trustee in Charter Township of Independence for 8 years.
  • Appointed City manager of Keego Harbor for 4 years
  • Appointed City manager of Cheboygan for 3 1/2 years
  • Lead negotiator for AFSCME and POLC labor contracts
  • Served as DDA Director
  • Served as Zoning administrator
  • Oversaw DPW operations in various communities
  • Oversaw reconstruction of 20% of the roads in Keego Harbor
  • Has a BS in Management from Lawrence Tech
  • Has a Law degree from Detroit College of Law and is a licensed attorney

Here is a copy of his complete resume:

Dale Stuart resume

The interview process was similar to previous interviews.  Each Board member asked the applicant questions.  Supervisor Gonser was not present at the meeting.  Trustee Ferriolo wanted to make certain the the applicant was familiar with the issue Supervisor Gonser has with the ‘strong manager’ form of governance in Oakland Township.  Mr. Stuart was familiar with the Supervisor’s position on this matter, but responded by expressing how he would handle any potential disagreement.  He then asked the Board to express their position on Ordinance 97 and the ‘strong manager’ form of governance, since he would rely on their support if needed.  All 6 Board members expressed their support for the ordinance and our form of governance.

After deliberations, the Board extended an offer to Mr. Stuart.  Mr. Stuart accepted the position.

Here is a video of portions of the interview:

 

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  We have gone through 3 Township managers over the past 3 years.  The day to day operation of our Township has not been taking place as it should.  Supervisor Gonser argues the lack of progress is due to the form of governance in our Township.  However, the constant ‘churning’ of managers, due to the Supervisor’s personal desire to run the Township himself as a ‘strong supervisor’, is the reason for the lack of progress.  Mr. Stuart is extremely familiar with what needs to get done in a community since he has been city Manager and a Supervisor of a Township.  His experience and local knowledge will allow him to ‘come up to speed’ very quickly and get us back on track.

The only risk is that Supervisor Gonser may attempt to subvert Mr. Stuart’s effectiveness in order to create the appearance that our form of governance does not work.  It worked very well for years prior to his election.

If you have not already done so, please read the other article that was posted today.  It provides some further insight into the challenges that Mr. Stuart will have with Supervisor Gonser.

Did Supervisor Gonser mislead voters in 2012 election, or did he not understand the job of Supervisor in our Township?

Richard Michalski

Did Supervisor Gonser mislead voters in 2012 election, or did he not understand the job of Supervisor in our Township?

Several things occurred at the September 22, 2015 Oakland Township Board meeting that highlight the need for clear understanding of expectations when we elect our officials. Candidates running for office need to have an understanding of the structure and role for the position they are attempting to fill. If they want to change the structure or role, they should communicate their intentions during the campaign. Similarly, the voters that support the candidates need to have a clear understanding of what to expect from the candidates they support.  The Board’s events at the September 22 meeting indicate we had neither in the election of Supervisor Gonser in the 2012 election. 

At the September 22nd meeting, the Board was forced to make a motion to remove Supervisor Gonser from having a private office.  Shortly after taking office in 2012, the Supervisor got the Board to agree to convert a conference room into an office that all of them could use as a ‘drop in office’.  Over time, the Supervisor has taken over control of that room as his private office.

At the July 14, 2015 Board meeting, the Board approved an office rearrangement that had been under study for some time.  It was unanimously approved by the Board members present.  Gonser was not present at that meeting.  The plan comprehended the increased needs of the Township.  In that plan, the Supervisor and all Board members were provided a desk location that any could use to accomplish business while at the Township Hall.  Since the Supervisor position is a part time position, not a full time position, historically, our Township has not had a dedicated office for the Supervisor (contrary to what Gonser claimed in his Sept 15th email).

As the office rearrangement was ready to begin, Warren Brown, our former Township manager, asked the Supervisor to remove his personal belongings from the office he had taken over.  The Supervisor refused to do so, disregarding the Board’s direction from the July 14th meeting.  The manager’s request, and the Supervisor’s response are shown in the following emails.

Gonser’s demand for personal office

Our Township Attorney advised the Supervisor that he does not have a statutory right to a private office, given the structure of our Township.  Here is a quote from our Township attorney  from the September 22 meeting:

” In this circumstance, given Ordinance 97 and the fact that we are a ‘manager run’ government, I have given the opinion, and I have spoken with the Supervisor about this directly, that I do not believe he is entitled to an office.”

In order to protect our Township’s interim manager Jamie Moore (Warren Brown has resigned) from having to deal with this contentious issue, the Board felt in necessary to make a formal motion to have Gonser remove his things from the room he had been using as his office.  The motion was approved 6 to 1, with Gonser being the dissenting vote.

Gonser responded by saying:

“I guess if the Supervisor chooses to reside back there, I guess Lieutenant Spencer is going to have to be pressed into duty to call the Oakland Press and haul out the Supervisor- not a good scenario!”

Treasurer Langlois responded by saying:

“That’s your choice whether or not that be the scenario.”

Trustee Ferriolo added:

“Absolutely!”

Gonser concluded by saying:

“The Board’s choice.”

Later in the meeting, the Supervisor indicated that until recently, he had been spending 50 to 60 hours per week at the Township Office.  He said he had provided Warren Brown a list of things that he had been working on shortly after Mr. Brown started work in the Township in March of this year.  Gonser went on to say that he was disappointed with the lack of progress on the items during the 5 months that Mr. Brown was here.  Many of these items have been issues long before Mr. Brown came to Oakland Township.

Gonser’s  acknowledgment that he had been working on these items was a clear admission that he had violated Oakland Township’s Ordinance 97.  This behavior is consistent with his repeated personal desire to be a “Strong Supervisor”.  He went on to say that his actions were in response to what he believes are the desires of the people who voted him into office.

So, we have a Supervisor who:

  • disregards the July 14 Board decision regarding his office arrangements (just because he disagrees with it),
  • purposefully violates Ordinance 97 (just because he disagrees with it),
  • bases his actions on what he ‘believes’ the voters want him to do (even though it is contrary to the structure of the position he was elected to fill),
  • flagrantly disregards an Ordinance that he swore to uphold when he took his oath of office (even though he is legally obligated to follow and uphold the Ordinance).

Supervisor Gonser did not make clear, when he was running for office, that he wanted to change the structure of Oakland Township (i.e.. Strong Supervisor, private office, full time job for Supervisor, increased salary), yet he strongly believes that the majority of the citizens who voted for him agree with him.  The Board, by a 6 to 1 vote, have repeatedly indicated they do not agree with him.

Here are video excerpts from the September 22, 2015 BOT meeting:

 

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  Expectations for change when a person is running for office need to be clearly communicated by the candidates.  Gonser truly believes that his mandate was to change the structure of Oakland Township’s governance, but he never made his intentions known to citizens during the campaign.  Many citizens, including Board members and previous supporters, have changed their opinion of Supervisor Gonser over the past few years based on his actions.  He is not what they ‘bought into’ when they voted for him.

I guess it is possible that Gonser did not understand the job of Supervisor in our Township prior to being elected.  If that is the case, an argument can be made that his lack of understanding of the position is precisely why a ‘Manager’ form of government is good for our Township.  If he did understand the job of Supervisor, and neglected to communicate his desire to change it, a deception occurred that we cannot let reoccur in 2016.

Our political system relies on our elected officials following through on the things they promised when campaigning.  Having a personal agenda that is hidden from the voters, does not serve the community well.  Ignorance over the job responsibilities does not serve our needs either.  The chaos in our Township over the past three years is due to one of these occurring in our Township.

Richard Michalski

Reasons why Oakland Township’s legal expense has doubled under Supervisor Gonser and the current Board

Since Supervisor Gonser and the new Board took office in 2012, the legal expense for our Township has doubled. Shortly after being elected, the Board changed law firms.  In the 29 months that the new law firm has served the Township, our cumulative legal expense is at $513,000. The legal expense for 29 months under the previous Board was approximately $255,000.  So in 29 months, we have spent $258,000 more than the previous Board.

An analysis was undertaken to determine the reasons for the increase.  A video has been created that shows the results of that analysis, as well as some conclusions and recommendations.  It is rather long, but it gives the detailed background for the conclusions and recommendations.

Here are some key graphs from the analysis:

(click on graphs to expand)

LEGAL FEES OVER TIME

Oakland Township Legal expense

REASONS FOR LEGAL FEES OVER PAST 29 MONTHS

Pareto of legal issues

CURRENT BOARD’S LEGAL FEES vs. PREVIOUS BOARD’S LEGAL FEES

Comparison of legal expense

Here is the video:

The Conclusions from the analysis:
– The primary reason for Township’s legal expense doubling is labor negotiations, employment issues and litigation costs.

– The Township Board is directly responsible for many of the labor, employment and litigation costs.

– Questions exist over Gonser’s authority and justification for increasing the retainer fee without disclosure to fellow Board members or citizens.

– Township published records make it impossible to understand the reasons for litigation costs without using the FOIA process.

Recommendations:
– The Supervisor and the Board need to change their behavior to eliminate what some considered a “hostile environment” that warranted efforts to form unions.

– The Board needs to understand the total cost (legal and associated) before making litigious decisions.

– Supervisor Gonser should explain why he increased the retainer fee from $90k to $108k per year without Board approval or citizen knowledge.

– The Township Manager, with Board approval, needs to Improve the ‘transparency’ of Board packet information by being more descriptive of reasons for litigation.  We should follow what the city of Hamtramck does  (they are also represented by Giarmarco and Mullin). (example shown below)

Hamtramck Legal expense in their Board packets

– The Board should request our Law Firm publish quarterly legal status report like the city of Troy (example shown below)

CIty of Troy 2015 first quarter Litigation report

Reference Material

Legal RFP

Original legal contract- 2013

Revised legal contract- 2015

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  Each taxpayer in Oakland Township is now paying twice as much for legal services than they did a few years ago.  This Board ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, yet they have not questioned the reasons for the higher expense.  Their actions have actually contributed to the higher costs.  Most notably the expense incurred as a result of creating a work environment that drove the unionization of some of our Township staff.

The Oakland Township Watcher website raised the issue of  high legal expense earlier this year.  It was only after we raised the concern, that the Treasurer and/or Clerk discovered an accounting error that resulted  in the Township inappropriately paying for legal services that should have been charged to developer’s escrow accounts.  That action will save our Township $9,000 per year.  It appears our elected officials ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility and transparency, but when it comes to doing the work, citizen involvement is necessary to make sure they do what they said they would do.

As the Board considers the tax rate that we will be paying next year, lowering the tax rate is only one element of fiscal responsibility.  Controlling costs is the other element.  Behavior needs to change and questions need to be asked and answered.

Richard Michalski

Do Gonser’s actions suggest he places his political agenda above the needs of the Township?

Supervisor Gonser appears to be placing his own political agenda over the critical needs of the community.  His two planning commission nominees at the August 31, 2015 Special Board meeting do not have the critical skills that members of the Board and the Planning Commission feel are needed.  He also failed to nominate qualified candidates at the September 8, 2015 Board meeting.  He is choosing to ignore individuals with Township planning experience that have applied for the open Planning Commission positions.

Oakland Township’s Planning Commission currently has only five commissioners.  Their combined planning experience level is less than 8 years.  There should be seven members of the commission.  As reported previously, Supervisor Gonser’s two nominees for the vacancies were not acceptable to the other six members of the Township Board.   Neither of his nominees had enough Planning Commission or Township experience to fill the voids created by Gonser’s previous nominees to the Planning Commission.

At the special August 31, 2015 Board meeting, Gonser nominated two individuals who had no experience in Oakland Township Planning, Zoning or other subcommittee events.  The Supervisor had received a total of 5 applications for the open positions well before the August 31st special Board meeting.  Two of the applicants have significant Planning, Zoning, or even Township Trustee experience.  Another applicant has been very involved in Oakland Township activities, and is a member of the Safety Path and Trails subcommittee.  Two of the  three individuals with Township planning, zoning or subcommittee experience live on large parcels in the Township.

Gonser claimed his selections were based on a need to have women on the Planning Commission, and that he wanted to nominate individuals who live on acreage.  Based on Gonser’s stated reasons for his nominations, he did not find the experience of the 5 early applicants to be a compelling reason to justify their nomination.  He therefore solicited applications from the two individuals he nominated at the August 31, 2015 meeting.  Their applications were submitted on August 27th and 28th, just days before the meeting.

During citizen comments, an individual commented that he thought Gonser’s appointments were political.  Gonser responded by saying:

“These are not political appointments.  These are not political people.”

Later in the meeting, Parks and Recreation Commission member Roger Schmidt, husband of Barbara, one of Gonser’s nominees stated:

“When THEY got me in, I came home from my first (Parks and Recreation) meeting, I was not very happy, and my wife said why did one individual dislike me so much to get me on this Commission (Gonser laughs in background).  Well, I did not run to be on this Commission.  I ran to help people get elected on the Board because things were not going well..”

The other nominee Mrs. Landers stated:

” . . . and I think the biggest thing that I did. . . . I did have faith in a lot of people.  I single handedly brought together the first ever big community ‘meet and greet’ that we had that allowed people to meet all the people that are on our Board and everything now.”

Here is a video of portions of the August 31st meeting:

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  The Supervisor is disregarding the desires of the other Board members, and the seated Planning Commission members.  They have indicated a need  to have additional Planning experience added to the Commission.  Gonser appears to be placing his own political agenda over the needs of the community, the request from his previously appointed Planning Commissioners and fellow Board members.

His two nominees may not be political people, but clearly based on the comments made at the August 31 meeting, the husband of one of them got involved in politics in order to help Gonser get elected, and the other nominee sponsored a political get together to help Gonser (and others)  get elected.  To Mrs. Landers credit, she did agree to serve on the Safety Path and Trails Subcommittee after it was clear her nomination was not going to be accepted.

The Board and the citizens of the community must continue to place the needs of the community over any political agenda of the Supervisor.  We have qualified individuals ready and willing to serve.  Let’s move forward!

Richard Michalski

P.S.  Next year, we need to remember Roger Schmidt’s statement expressing his lack of interest in being on the Parks and Recreation Commission, and why he really ran for office.  We need to have Parks and Recreation Commission members who are motivated for the right reason.

Please attend September 9th Parks and Recreation meeting if you want to help restore integrity in Oakland Township

Please attend the Wednesday September 9, 2015 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting that will be held at 7 pm at the Township Hall on Collins Road. The Commission will be considering a motion to censure Commissioner Ann Marie Rogers for a breach of ethical and honorable behavior. Citizen support is needed if we want to maintain ethical behavior in our elected officials. It is hoped that the Commission will move this agenda item near the beginning of the meeting.

Here is the agenda for the meeting (see item 13):

Sept 9, 2015 PRC agenda

As previously reported on this website, it was discovered that Park’s and Recreation Commission member, Ann Marie Rogers, as well as former Trustee Maureen Thalmann had shared privileged and confidential material with others. The findings were forwarded to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and Prosecutor’s office to determine if any illegal actions had taken place. Their investigation determined that no criminal actions had taken place.

In the July 27, 2015 Oakland Press article, describing the issue and the Prosecutor’s findings, Ann Marie Rogers is quoted as saying:

“The fact of the matter is that the (Oakland County) prosecutor found that I did not commit any crime nor did anything improper. Maureen Thalmann and myself have been completely exonerated of any wrongdoing.”

Here is comment made in the May 7, 2015 Oakland Press article on this subject, where Ann Marie Rogers attempts to defend her actions:

Rogers noted she was never asked to sign an agreement stating she not share attorney-client communications following her 2012 election to the board.

It appears Ann Marie Rogers believes since sharing of privileged and confidential material was not illegal, it was not wrong or improper behavior. It appears that others on the Parks and Recreation Commission may think otherwise, and may be censuring her for her actions.  The Parks and Recreation Commission will be considering officially censuring Ann Marie Rogers’ behavior.

The Township Board had previously passed a similar resolution indicating that sharing of Privileged and Confidential material was “breach of trust” and that a failure to report an unauthorized receipt of correspondence marked Privileged and Confidential was ‘improper”.

Here is a copy of the Township Board’s Resolution 15-15:

Resolution 15-15

Here is a copy of the draft resolution being considered on September 9th:

Parks and Recreation censure motion

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township? Oakland Township has now established a new standard for ethics in government. Sharing of information marked ‘Privileged and Confidential’ will now become the acceptable standard for elected officials – unless the Park’s and Recreation Commission make it clear that such behavior is unacceptable.

An individual’s moral values are the basis for one’s behavior. Ethical behavior is therefore in the “eyes of the beholder”. Laws are written to protect society from significant unethical behavior. Laws do not restrict ALL unethical behavior. Sharing Privileged and Confidential material has now been determined not to be illegal or criminal, and, in the eyes of one of our elected Parks Commissioners, acceptable.

The issue of whether the information HAD been shared by the two elected officials was never contested. The issue the Sheriff and Prosecutor had to determine was whether sharing the information constituted a criminal act. To be clear, the prosecutor DID find that Ann Marie Rogers did not commit a crime. However, they DID NOT conclude, as Ann Marie stated to the Oakland Press, that there was not ANY ‘improper’ behavior. It appears her value system is based on only following the laws on the books.

The Park’s and Recreation motion will parallel a similar motion the Township Board took following Maureen Thalmann’s actions and the County’s findings. Both actions will make it clear to our elected officials that sharing of Privileged and Confidential material IS considered a breach of ethics and honorable conduct in our Township.

Here are some previous posts on this subject:

Board Resolution – Acts By Rogers, Thalmann “Repudiated” as a “Breach of Trust” . Gonser’s inactions termed “improper”

Parks Commissioner Ann Marie Rogers attempts to defend her behaviour

Former Trustee Thalmann and Current Park’s Commissioner Rogers DID forward “Privileged and Confidential” material!

Trustee Thalmann’s resignation and legal investigation

Richard Michalski

Supervisor Gonser demonstrates his lack of understanding of Planning Ordinance

At the August 31, 2015 Special Board of Trustees meeting that Supervisor Gonser scheduled to appoint two new Planning Commission members, he demonstrated his lack of understanding of an important element of our Ordinance.  He accused the previous Planning Commission of creating an ordinance that was established to benefit developers.  Nothing was farther from the truth. His ignorance demonstrates the importance of filling the two open Planning Commission seats with people that can add some historical knowledge to the Planning Commission.

In the mid-1980’s, the Township performed a study to determine the impact of what would occur if all of the land in the Township was developed to the full extent allowed under the then existing zoning.  It was determined that since the Township was (and continues to be) serviced by many gravel roads, safety concerns would exist if the properties on gravel roads were allowed to be fully developed.  There were concerns over Fire Truck, Emergency vehicle and Police vehicle access over poor gravel road conditions, in all seasons, due to the future heavy traffic.

With that understanding, the Township Board and the Planning Commission developed what is presently called the “Ultimate Paved Road Density Ordinance”.  This Ordinance decreased the zoning density of over 300 parcels of land that were only accessible on gravel roads.  However, in order to prevent the property owners from legally challenging the Township of a ‘taking’, the Ordinance allows the parcels to revert back to the original zoning classification if the access roads to the parcel(s) are paved by the developer of the property.

This ordinance has been used by a number of developers over the years.  One of the more visible examples is the stretch of Silverbell east of Adams to almost Gallagher Road.  The cost for the paving was incurred by the developer, and the result is the subdivision that exists there under the original zoning.

At the August 31, 2015 meeting, the Supervisor commented that he saw this ordinance as a poor example of Planning in the Township and a reason for why he wanted to change the membership of the Planning Commission.  In his statement he said:

” That (the Ultimate Paved Road Density Ordinance) came out of your last Planning Commission, the previous Planning Commission.  That permitted developers to increase the density if they paved the road.

Now, does that satisfy Oakland Township’s desire to stay rural?

I think not!”

The author of this post, former Planning Commissioner Chairman James Carter, and another citizen who played a significant role in establishing the Ordinance Don Westphal, pointed out to the Supervisor that the Planning Commission and Board action in the mid-1980s was an excellent example of good planning.  The reasons are:

  • It protects the safety of the community by insuring we had roads that could be used by emergency vehicles in all seasons.
  • It protects the Township from being accused of ‘taking’ property rights away from property owners, since they could revert to the original zoning if they met the criteria defined in the Ordinance.
  • It acts as a method to decrease development in the Township.
  • It reduces the amount of money required to maintain the gravel roads that could not sustain the higher traffic from higher density developments.

When confronted with these arguments, Gonser stated:

” I studied that quite well, so I understand completely how it happened.  The bottom line is it gets developed, and it gets developed to a higher density.  So the proof is ‘in the puddin!’ “

Here are video excerpts from the meeting – (please note Gonser’s attempt to limit James Carter’s comments and the citizen’s reactions):

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  The Supervisor’s ignorance over the reasons for the Ordinance reinforced the need to have knowledgable people on the Planning Commission.  His belief that the Ordinance is bad just because “it (the land) got developed” is contrary to his statement that “private property rights are paramount”. You cannot have it both ways!

At the beginning of each Planning Commission meeting, an opening statement is read where the duties of the Planning Commission are explained.  It states the the Planning Commission is charged with ensuring all plans must:

  • meet the existing Zoning and other Ordinances of the Township
  • meet Michigan State Law & Constitution
  • meet Federal Law
  • protect the property right of the owners of the property.

The Supervisor apparently does not support protecting the property rights of developers who own land.  Apparently he sees a difference between “developers” who own land and “private property owners”.  The law does not differentiate between the two.

The Township must protect against having individuals that have similar opinions appointed to our Planning Commission.  Our Township will be plagued with high legal expenses defending poor decisions by the Planning Commission and the Board.  If the Township loses a “taking” lawsuit, the Township is subject to significant monetary damages which are ultimately paid by taxpayers.

We need experienced individuals on the Planning Commission to offset the lack of understanding of good planning by our Supervisor.

Richard Michalski

Here are some related links that were previously posted on this website:

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

Zoning? – Gonser Doesn’t Understand our Master Plan Either.

Supervisor Gonser attempts to influence Planning Commission’s Master Plan

Supervisor Gonser demonstrates his lack of knowledge of Oakland Township Zoning

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