Monthly Archives: October 2015

Were residents misled by Supervisor Gonser regarding the Parks and Recreation Commission’s legal fees?

This website has recently reported on legal expenses incurred by our Township.  One of our discoveries has resulted in a $9,000 per year savings to our Township.  As we continued our investigation, Bob Yager, the editor for the Oakland Township Sentinel LLC, made a discovery that raised a question regarding what really is covered in our Township’s monthly legal retainer fee.  

During 2014, former Trustee Thalmann repeatedly accused the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) of ‘wasting’ Township funds by using a different law firm, since the retainer fee for the Township Board’s law firm allegedly included PRC legal support. Supervisor Gonser never corrected the repeated accusations even though a year earlier, at a PRC meeting, Supervisor Gonser made a commitment that Thalmann’s accusations would not occur.

Here is the chronology of events:

  • On February 26, 2013, the Township Board approved a contract with our current Township legal service firm,  Giarmarco, Mullen and Horton P.C.
  • On February 27, 2013, the Parks and Recreation Commission discussed the Board’s decision regarding legal support.
  • The minutes from the February 27, 2013 PRC meeting state:

“Supervisor Gonser was present and explained that the Board solicited quotes for legal services. They agreed to contract with a firm for a not-to-exceed amount for one year, and that this figure anticipated that the new firm would provide legal services to the PRC. However, the amount would be reduced if the PRC chooses to obtain legal services through a different firm.”

  • At the March 13, 2013  PRC meeting, the PRC decided to keep the legal firm they had been using for years. It was not the same firm that the Township Board was using.
  • Between January 14, 2014 and Ocotober 14, 2014, former trustee Thalmann repeatedly accused the PRC of wasting money by using their own attorney rather than using the Board’s legal firm, which allegedly was covered in the Township’s monthly retainer fee..
  • Not once, after the repeated accusations by former Trustee Thalmann, did Supervisor Gonser challenge the accuracy of her statements, even though he stated on Febraury 27, 2013 that what she said would not occur.

Here are video clips of Trustee Thalmann’s repeated accusations made on:

  1. January 14, 2014 BOT
  2. February 11, 2014 BOT
  3. March 11, 2014 BOT
  4. September 23, 2014 BOT
  5. October 14, 2014 BOT


Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township? Many citizens still believe that the Township is paying for legal fees that are unnecessary.  The Supervisor has never clarified this issue.

With this documentation, one of three things must be true:

  • The original monthly retainer fee was reduced to reflect the decision the PRC made to keep their own legal support firm, BUT Supervisor Gonser never felt it necessary to correct the multiple erroneous statements made by former Trustee Thalmann.


  • The original monthly retainer fee never included the PRC legal services, BUT Supervisor Gonser never felt it necessary to correct the erroneous statements made by former Trustee Thalmann.


  • Supervisor Gonser never reduced the monthly retainer fee to reflect the decision the PRC made to keep their own legal support firm, AND we are continuing to pay more for legal services than what is necessary.

We will request the the Board clarify this issue and report on it in a future post.  We are either paying more for legal services than what we need to be paying, or Supervisor Gonser’s ‘silence’ on this matter was an ‘act of omission’.

Richard Michalski



Supervisor Gonser’s false allegations and inconsistent comments and examples of his ‘ethics’ while in office

At the September 22, 2015 BOT meeting, Supervisor Gonser made many allegations about former Manager Warren Brown.  Trustee Ferriolo discovered that the Supervisor’s allegations were unsubstantiated.  At the October 13, 2015 BOT meeting, Supervisor Gonser made a statement that was not consistent with what he had publicly stated at the September 22, 2015 BOT meeting.

At the September 22, 2015 BOT meeting, Supervisor Gonser made many accusations against our former Township Manager, Warren Brown.  Mr. Brown was not present at the meeting to defend himself, since he had already resigned from the position.

Before making the many accusations against Mr. Brown, Supervisor Gonser stated:

“I wanted to express the disappointment I have in our former Township manager. The second week after he came, he asked the Supervisor if I would turn over all the projects I was working on to him, which I did, and that was the last time I spoke to him, or he spoke to me actually. The last time he . . . for a number of weeks.”

Gonser then proceeded to claim that the lack of progress on the projects he mentioned was due to the fact that we do not have a “strong Supervisor” form of governance in Oakland Township, a position both he and former Trustee Thalmann tried to change MANY times over the past 3 years.

Between September 22 and October 13, Trustee Ferriolo did some research to determine if Gonser’s accusations were true.  After consulting with Township Staff, Ferriolo determined that Gonser’s accusations were not true. Trustee Ferriolo commented on his findings at the October 13 BOT meeting. He felt Gonser’s comments were “statements unbecoming a Township Supervisor”.

After Trustee Ferriolo made his comments, Supervisor Gonser attempted to defend himself.  He said:

“Trustee Ferriolo was speaking somewhat beyond his knowledge. There WERE communications between the Supervisor and the former Manager regarding a lot of these project.  They did not get done, so I am simply stating the facts.  I stand by that! “

This statement contradicts what he said at the September 22 BOT meeting.

  • Did he, or did he not speak to Warren Brown about progress on the various projects?  Both statements cannot be true!
  • Was Gonser just trying to defend his unsubstantiated claims?
  • Was Gonser trying to ‘get even’ with Warren Brown, since Mr. Brown made the following statement at the last Board meeting he attended prior to his resignation?

“If the Supervisor cannot admit the error of his ways, fill the chasm, and become more malleable in his approach to his position, he should follow my lead. . . . To offer his resignation would be an act of service for the greater good!”

Here is a transcript of the accusations Gonser made at the September 22 meeting.

Supervisor Gonser’s negative comments about Warren Brown Sept 22, 2015

Here is a video showing a portion of Gonser’s comments at the September 22 meeting, what Trustee Ferriolo said at the October 13 BOT meeting, and Gonser’s statement trying to defend himself.

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  Supervisor Gonser has yet again failed to live up to one of his stated priorities when he ran for office.  He told the League of Women’s voters that one of his top three priorities, if elected, was Integrity and establishing an Ethics Policy for Oakland Township.  His most recent statement is yet another example of what many citizens have come to expect from our Supervisor.

There are many examples that make clear Mr. Gonser’s ‘personal’ ethical standards. The reader can determine if these actions meet their ethical standards. Here are a few (there are more that could be added).  Each item is linked to a previous post that supports the statement:

Do these actions meet your ‘litmus test’ for ethical behavior?

A person's actions tell you everthing you need to know

Richard Michalski

Oakland Township and Clinton River Watershed Council agree to a Settlement regarding Millrace lawsuit

As many of you are aware, there has been a legal dispute between Oakland Township and the Clinton River Watershed Council regarding the lack of water flowing down the millrace that leads to the Paint Creek Cider Mill.  On October 6, 2015 an agreement was reached between the parties. A copy of the agreement is attached to this post.  Some of the key items in the agreement are spelled out in this article.

Millrace sign

CIder Mill Wheel copy

When the dam that was upstream of the Paint Creek cider mill (and the millrace) was removed in 2012, the flow of water down the millrace had stopped.  The dam removal was an initiative of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  The Clinton River Watershed Council was the fiduciary on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funded by EPA.

The millrace property is owned by the Township and 7 property owners.  The lack of water flow in the millrace  was a political issue in the 2012 elections, since the previous Board had agreed to the dam removal.  The property owners asked the new Township Board members to help them get the water flowing again in the millrace because their property values had been negatively impacted.  The Board has been working on this issue for 3 years. In 2014, a breach of contract lawsuit was filed against the Clinton River Watershed Council.  Additional background information can be seen in the attached ‘Mutual Release and Settlement Agreement’.

Mutual Release and Settlement Agreement

Here are some of the major elements of the agreement that was approved in a 5 to 2 vote by the Oakland Township Board (Supervisor Gonser & John Giannangeli were dissenting votes) and the Clinton River Watershed Council:

  • The Parties have agreed to settle their disputes and all related claims without further litigation.
  • Hubble, Roth & Clark, Inc. (an Engineering Consulting firm) has determined that certain of the structures that are part of the Project (the original dam removal project) might be modified to increase the flow of water from the Paint Creek through the millrace, and possibly meet Oakland Township’s expectations of flows following completion of the Project.
  • The Clinton River Watershed Council (through Hubble Roth & Clark) will undertake a further design/construction review.
  • The review (or Memorandum) will include articulating the flows Oakland Township desires and identifying modifications that may achieve those flows and may be acceptable to the MDEQ/MDNR.
  • The Design review is to be complete within 60 days.
  • If the Parties agree upon and approve the Modifications, Clinton River Watershed Council shall facilitate a meeting with MDEQ and any other necessary governmental agencies to review the modifications, if needed.  Oakland Township shall be solely reponsible for seeking agency approval of the Modifications.
  • Within the next 12 months, the Clinton River Watershed Council will seek to identify 2 grants for the clean-out and restoration to the millrace by Oakland Township, if available and eligible.
  • Clinton River Watershed Council shall be solely responsible for any and all costs and expenses, of any kind, nature or type whatsoever, associated with the consultant(s) review.
  • Oakland Township shall be responsible for all costs and/or fees associated with MDEQ and/or other governmental agency review of proposed Modifications; any plans necessary for implementation of the Modifications; any design or analysis over and above that provided in the Memorandum; permitting, and any other additional pre-construction, construction or post-construction costs incurred, or to be incurred, should Oakland Township move forward to undertake to perform any Modifications; and any additional or further cost or attorney fees which may be incurred by Oakland Township.

The agreement also includes the typical legal ‘boiler plate’ wording.

A review of the previous bills that have been submitted to the Township for the various aspects of the millrace issue was undertaken.  Financial documents were obtained from the Township  using the Freedom of Information process (FOIA). The total amount the Township has spent on this issue from May of 2013 to September of 2015 is $89,226.  (An additional $3,112.50 for legal services will be approved at the October 13, 2015 BOT meeting).  This amount includes legal, consultant and engineering expense.  Here is a chart that shows the amount spent in each category:

Cumulative costs for Millrace Issue

It is clear, based on the agreement,  that as we proceed with this effort, additional expenses will be incurred by the Township.

Here is a copy of the minutes of the September 27, 2011 BOT meeting where the Board approved the dam removal:

September 27, 2011 BOT motion on dam removal

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?   The millrace issue has been a divisive issue in our Township for several years.  The lack of water flowing down the millrace appears to be due to several things.  The fundamental reason is the loss of elevation of the water feeding the millrace due to the dam removal.  Another reason is that the sediment buildup in the millrace, after years of operation, prevent the water from flowing ‘uphill’.  The sediment issue was raised many times by the Clinton River Watershed Council prior to the dam removal, but nothing was ever done about it.

The settlement agreement appears to be a fair and equitable one.  Regarding the sediment in the millrace, the millrace is used by our community for storm water drainage from the basin on the northeast side of Orion Road in front of Baldwin Elementary School.  That water has contributed (in part) to the sediment buildup in the millrace.  As a result, the community does have some responsibility to clear the millrace.

However, the return of water flow in the millrace is contingent upon:

  • engineering work that results in a design that will provide enough water flow down the millrace to satisfy the Township and the residents desires,
  • the proposed project being acceptable to MDEQ,
  • available grant funding for the dredging & clean out of the millrace.

These are three significant hurdles.  It appears we now have a plan that MAY get us water in the millrace.  The real test will come if the Township Board must make a decision to use public funds to remediate the problem, created on private property (no water in the millrace), as a result of the decision made by the previous Board to remove the dam.

Here are some previous post on the Millrace issue:

Oakland Township files lawsuit against Clinton River Watershed Council

UPDATE: Oakland Township Board (CORRECTION – SUPERVISOR GONSER) potentially commits $431,875 of Township funds to improve private property outside ANY public meeting

Oakland Township Board potentially commits $431,875 of Township funds to improve private property outside ANY public meeting

Richard Michalski