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.
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:
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.