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
REASONS FOR LEGAL FEES OVER PAST 29 MONTHS
CURRENT BOARD’S LEGAL FEES vs. PREVIOUS BOARD’S LEGAL FEES
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.
– 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
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.