Category Archives: A new kind of “Transparency”

Attorney bills out of control in Oakland Township?

The cost for legal services in Oakland Township has doubled under the Board the citizens elected in 2012.  The yearly expenditure went from slightly over $100,000 to $200,000.  This post is intended to give the citizens some insight into what is driving that, how difficult is has been to find the information necessary to put this report together, and some specific recommendations for the Board to consider.

The yearly legal expense incurred by our Township Board has almost doubled since the existing Board came into office in 2012. One of the first actions that the new Board took was to replace the Legal firm that had been working for the Township for years.   The yearly legal expense to the Township increased at the same time this change occurred.  Here is a graph showing the historical fiscal year legal expense, as well as the budgeted amount for future years.

Oakland Township Legal expense

(Click on ‘Legal Fees Graph’ to view larger image)

Legal Fees Graph

In order to understand the reasons for the increase in the Board’s legal fees, a review of the legal bills was undertaken.  In looking at the readily available documents the Township posts, it became apparent that decisions had been made regarding how much information would be provided residents.  The information went from very vague and useless (prior to July 2, 2014), to fairly informative (July 2, 2014 to Feb 24, 2015), back to very vague and useless (after Feb 24, 2015).  Examples of this will be shared later in this post.

Supervisor Gonser’s actions may provide some insight into the apparent policy change on how much information was to be made available to the residents.

  • On March 24, 2015, Supervisor Gonser accused Trustee Buxar of inappropriately providing legal financial records to the author of this post.  His accusation was proven to be false, but more importantly it reflected his position on sharing legal financial information with residents. Here is a video of his accusation and the response.

At a public meeting that former State Representative McMillin had on March 28, 2014, Attorney Herschel Fink made it clear that citizens are legally allowed to review financial bills.  By his March 24, 2015 comments, Supervisor Gonser clearly indicates that he disagrees. Here is a video of Mr. Fink’s comments:

 

In order to obtain an understanding of what is driving the legal expenses for calendar year 2015, the author of this post FOIA’d all the bills from the Township Attorney.  The documents supplied were heavily ‘redacted’, but I was able to put together the following summary:

Here is a pie chart that shows the dollar amount and percentage of the year-to-date legal expense for the Board’s legal support and lawsuits in our Township:

2015 Legal fee percentages

(click on image to enlarge)

Several conclusions and comments regarding the findings:

  • Although there is a difference between the fiscal year and the calendar year for Oakland Township, the calendar year to date expenditure totals $87,000.  If that spending rate continues for the entire fiscal 2015-2016 fiscal year, we will spend $209,000 very close to the budgeted amount, but still twice what Oakland Township has historically spent for legal bills.
  • There is no documentation on how many hours the attorney has spent on Township business as part of the $9,000 per month retainer fee.  The retainer fee approach was instituted when this Board came into office.
  • 17% of the legal expense is due to ‘Labor and Employment’.  Much of this is due to the unionization efforts of Township employees that started when this Board came into office.
  • 14% of the legal expense is due to Oakland Township suing the Clinton River Watershed Council over the impact the removal of the dam had on the millrace and its property owners.  This issue, along with Blossom Ridge, was a campaign issue that helped many of the incumbent Board members get into office.
  • 4% of the legal expense is due to the decision the Board made to not consider using Detroit City water, hence driving the need to refund millions of dollars to developers and some property owners.

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township? The citizens of Oakland Township elected most of our current Board (one was recently appointed when Maureen Thalmann resigned).  Some of the campaign items the Board ran on resulted in increased legal expenditures.  However, did the citizens recognize that our legal expenditures would double?  Has the Board and or Supervisor made decisions to make it difficult for citizens to understand where the legal expenses are being incurred? Is it consistent with their repeated claims about being transparent?

The contributing factors for the increase in expenditures appear to be:

  • The $9,000 per month retainer fee implemented by this Board. The $9,000 per month fee results in an annual expense of $108,000 – approximately the previous legal yearly expenditure which included litigation and labor.
  • Several Board decisions that are driving the litigation expense up.
  • The behavior of the Board that drove the employees to join unions, and the resultant increase in Labor legal expense.

All of these items are now history, and there is nothing we can do about it.  However, going forward, I believe the transparency of the legal bills needs to improve.  Citizens should not have to FOIA records to see what is driving the legal expenditures.

The attorneys for the City of Troy publish a quarterly Litigation report that is accessible to all citizens through the City’s website.  A copy of their May 13, 2015 report is shown here:

CIty of Troy 2015 first quarter Litigation report

Clearly that community’s leadership feels that litigation activities are important and deserve to be shared with their citizens.

Here are my specific recommendations that I would like the Board to consider:

  • The monthly Board packet should identify the plaintiff & defendant in each lawsuit, and the amount of money spent on each litigation item.
  • The Board should request an hourly summary of what all is being covered in the retainer fee.  We need to understand if we are “getting our money’s worth”.
  • A running tab should be created for each litigation issue, so the residents understand the total amount of money spent on each lawsuit we either initiated or are defending.
  • As part of the retainer fee service, our Township attorney should generate a quarterly report showing the status on all litigation activities (similar to Troy’s report).
  • The Board should ensure the Litigation report is posted on the Township website.

As mentioned above, here are examples of the transition of quality of information provided by the Township in their monthly packets over time.

FInancials over time

Richard Michalski

 

Has decision been made on the owner/operator of the water systems for two Oakland Township areas?

At the May 26, 2015 BOT meeting, the Board’s discussion alluded to the fact that the Board was still looking at several options on who will manage the water supply systems for two areas of Oakland Township.  Here is a link to the discussions at that meeting.  Trustee Giannangeli indicated there were several options that the Township was considering.

Is Detroit Water still an option for parts of Oakland Township?

At the June 23, 2015 BOT meeting, Treasurer Langlois announced that there will be a meeting between the Township Attorney and the Oakland County Water Resource Commission Attorney to:

“clarify the legal arrangement between the Township and the County, so that as we contemplate major improvements to the system, we understand the status of that and how the legal arrangement works – will work- into the future.”

Here is a video of Ms. Langlois’ comments:

 

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  In less than a month, it appears the Township Board has moved from having several options under consideration to having selected the Oakland County Water Resource Commission as the source for managing and maintaining the water supply systems for two areas in our Township.  This apparent decision appears to have been made outside any public meeting, and without a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages for all the options that were under consideration less than a month ago.

Where and when did that discussion and decision occur in a public meeting?

Richard Michalski

Supervisor Gonser attempts to defend his lie in Rochester Post article

At the January 13, 2015 Oakland Township Board meeting, one of the agenda items was a discussion about the decision and authority to cancel the televising of the September 29, 2014 Board meeting(s).  It has previously been reported that Supervisor Gonser had cancelled the taping and televising of the meetings.  In those meetings, our former Township Manager, Ann Capela had first been fired, and later allowed to quit.  Many of the Board members did not agree with Gonser’s decision to cancel the taping of the meeting based on the resultant lack of transparency to our citizens.  They also questioned his authority to have made that decision.

When confronted with the facts about the cancellation, Supervisor Gonser acknowledged that he did call CMNtv to cancel the televising of the meetings, but then attempted to justify that decision by saying he was trying to protect Ann Capela reputation.  He made no apology for making the decision nor for lying to the Press.  In the September 29th meeting, both he and Trustee Thalmann were the only two Board members to not support firing Ann Capela.

The author of this post confronted Gonser in the meeting by saying that his rationale for not televising the meeting was NOT justification for lying to the Press when he said:

“It (the special meeting) was posted late on the website Sunday afternoon. There was no time to get the meeting televised.”

Here are the key video portions of this meeting regarding this issue:

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Townhip?  Most of the citizens of Oakland Township do not accept or condone Gonser’s lying in the Press (there was at least one citizen at the January 13 meeting who appeared to accept Gonser’s explanation).

This is not the first time that there has been documentation that our Supervisor has lied to the public.  One previous example was reported on this website where Gonser stated he had sent a letter requesting an opinion from our State Attorney General “as an individual”.  The letter he referred to was written 8 days AFTER he made that public statement.

Gonser’s lack of understanding that his rationale for making the decision is not justification for lying to the Press.  This is proof that his value system is based on “the end justifies the means”.

Gonser appears to subscribe to Machiavellian and Nixonian principles.

This post is one of several that support the actions taken by our Township Board at the January 13th meeting to try to stop Gonser’s many unauthorized decisions.

Richard Michalski

 

Supervisor Gonser knew about Gas Pipeline proposal but refused to inform the Park Commission

Supervisor Gonser knew about a proposed gas pipeline through Oakand Township more than a month before the Parks and Recreation Commission was informed that the pipeline was proposed to go through one of our Parks.  Gonser chose not to inform the Parks Commission about this project.  He later approved the survey work on the park land even though he knew the Parks Commission had not approved the request.  

As reported previously on this website, Vector Pipeline, a representative of DTE, met with the Oakland Township Parks and Recreation Commission on November 12, 2014 to request approval from the Parks Commission to proceed with a survey through Draper Twin Lakes Park to potentially install a 42 inch diameter gas line.  This proposed path is an optional path Vector Pipeline wanted to consider rather than using an existing right of way adjacent to the Park property.  There was no good reason given for why Vector Pipeline preferred to use the parkland.  This line would traverse our entire Township.  The Parks Commission did not grant approval to proceed with the survey work.  However, a few days after the meeting, a survey company was seen surveying the parkland.  Upon investigation, it was discovered that Supervisor Gonser had given approval to survey the land without the Parks Commission’s knowledge or approval.

Information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) indicates that Supervisor Gonser met with DTE, knew about the proposal, had a map of the proposed path, and sent a letter to the Board members informing them of project more than a month (October 2 and 3) before the Parks Commission meeting.  Supervisor Gonser apparently did not feel it necessary to inform the Parks Commission since they were not included on his email.

Gonser’s letter also included a draft letter that Vector Pipeline planned to send to all affected landowners prior to doing any surveying.  The Parks Commission never received a copy of the letter.  Gonser must have felt that since he had seen the letter, he felt it acceptable to approve the survey request even though he knew the Parks Commission had not approved it.

A discussion of Gonser’s actions on this issue is on the agenda for the January 13 BOT meeting.  Please come to the meeting or watch the discussion on your computer or TV.

Here are the documents obtained through the FOIA process:

Gonser’s prior knowledge of pipeline project

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  The Township Board, and particularly Supervisor Gonser, has had a number of confrontations with the Parks and Recreation Commission.  Some of these confrontations have escalated to formal legal proceedings.  Gonser’s obvious “in your face” decision to approve the survey work without having shared his prior knowledge of the project is yet another one of his ‘attacks’ on the Parks Commission.  He approved the request without having valid reasons given for why the existing right of ways could not be used.  His underhanded withholding of information from the Parks Commission is yet another example of his leadership style and ethics.

He claims to spend 50 to 60 hours per week on Township work, yet he could not take 30 seconds and include the Parks Commission on distribution on his October 3, 2014 email?

RIchard Michalski

Supervisor Gonser thwarts promised transparency in Oakland Township and makes false statement to Rochester Post

As previously posted on this website, our former Township Manager, Ann Capela, resigned after the September 29, 2014 Special Board meeting.  Neither the Special meeting nor the Budget Workshop (that had been scheduled to be televised and taped) were televised or taped (or even audio recorded).  It has been determined that Supervisor Gonser was the one who made the decision to CANCEL the video taping and televising of this very important meeting, contrary to his statement in the Press that there was “no time to get the meeting televised’ .

A Board discussion of this cancellation is on the agenda for the January 13, 2014 Board meeting.

Here are the details:

  • A 6 PM televised Oakland Township Board Budget Workshop had been planned and scheduled for September 29, 2014.
  • A day or two before the meeting, several Board members determined that they wanted to have a special meeting (that would include a closed hearing, at the request of Ann Capela) to:

” consider a periodic personnel evaluation of a public officer, employee, staff member, or individual agent”

  • The official posting of the special 5:30 PM meeting met the timing requirements for notification to the public.
  • Based on documents obtained through the FOIA process, here are the records of communications that took place the day of the meetings:
  • At 2:15 PM on September 29th, Supervisor Gonser made a 4 minute call to the CMNtv Executive Director.  (CNMtv is responsible for taping and televising our Township meetings at the direction of the Township.)
  • At 2:20 PM on September 29th, Jamie Moore, a member of the Township staff, sent an email to the CMNtv Executive Director stating, “Terry said you were looking for the agenda for tonight.” She attached the link to the agenda for the 5:30 meeting.
  • At 2:31 PM the Executive Director responded to Jamie’s email and acknowledged receipt of the email.
  • At 2:59 PM Supervisor Gonser made a 2 minute call to the CMNtv Executive Director.

The two meetings scheduled for that day were neither taped or televised, even though the Budget Workshop had previously been scheduled for being taped and televised.

As reported in the minutes of the two meetings, Ann Capela’s contract had been terminated during the open portion of the Special meeting, but during the ‘Old Business’ portion of the Budget Workshop meeting, her ‘termination’ was revised to accept her ‘resignation’.

Supervisor Gonser and Trustee Thalmann were the only two Board members who voted against Ann Capela’s termination.  The later vote to accept her resignation was unanimously approved.

In the October 9, 2014 Rochester Post, Supervisor Gonser is quoted as saying,

“It (the special meeting) was posted late on the website Sunday afternoon.  There was no time to get the meeting televised.”

At the October 14, 2104 BOT meeting, Treasurer Langlois, stated that Gonser’s statement was inaccurate. She said:

“So, in fact, not having a video tape of the meeting was not due to a lack of time, but apparently due to an earlier administrative decision.”

At the November 17, 2014 BOT meeting, she went on to say:

“We (the Board) discovered, after the fact, that a decision was made to cancel the video taping of the meeting.”

Here is the video of Treasurer Langlois’ comments:

Why is this  important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  The Township is suppose to be managed by our hired Township Manager (under the leadership of our Board).  Other than the election of our officials, there is probably no more important decision that affects our Township.  Yet, Supervisor Gonser, who ran on improving ‘transparency’ in our Township made the decision to not televise or record this very important meeting.

Supervisor Gonser has claimed the decision to televise meetings is consistent with his campaign promise to improve transparency.  However, his unilateral decision to cancel the televising of  this very significant meeting, and then stating in the Press that “there was not time to get the meeting televised” is another clear example of his character and real feelings about transparency.

His decision to not record or televise this meeting reminds me of the statement he made in a previous meeting where he said “Process is everything”.  This is yet another example of Gonser’s ‘selective’ use of processes aimed at accomplishing his own hidden agendas.

So much for transparency and ethics under our current Supervisor!

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

Richard Michalski

Treasurer Langlois challenges Supervisor Gonser’s Rochester Post statement

As reported previously, former Township Manager Capela’s employment was terminated on September 29, 2014. Efforts have been made to learn more about the discussions that took place at the meeting.  However,  there is no video or audio recording of the meeting proceedings.  

In an October 9, 2014 Rochester Post article, Supervisor Gonser stated:

“There was no time to get the meeting televised.” 

At the October 14, 2014 BOT meeting, Treasurer Langlois corrected Gonser’s statement, and pointed out that there apparently was an administrative decision made to not record or televise the special meeting as well as the Budget Workshop that had been scheduled for that date. Previous Budget workshops had been recorded and televised.

A few days after the September 29th meeting, the author of this post called the Township Office to determine if an audio recording had been made of the meeting.  They informed me that there was no audio recording of the meeting.  In the past, audio recordings were made of a meeting if it was known that it would not be video recorded.

Here is the video of Treasurer Langlois’ correction of Gonser’s statement:

Here are the copies of the minutes of the September 29th meetings (approved on October 14th):

September 29, 2014 Special meeting minutes

Sept 29th Budget workshop meeting minutes

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  Supervisor Gonser ran on a platform of transparency.  Treasurer Langlois has pointed out that the administration (either Capela or Gonser) apparently made a decision to not televise the meeting proceedings.  We as citizens will never know what really happened at the meeting, since there is no audio or video recording of that very important meeting.  Does that sound like transparency to you?

Richard Michalski

Trustees Thalmann and Giannangeli fail to comprehend Trustee Buxar’s comments

At the September 9, 2014 Board meeting, Trustee Buxar commented on how there have been comments made by Board members at other Township meetings implying that Board conversations occurred when those conversations had not occurred.  She went on to say that conversations may have occurred between other Board members, but did not include her.  She asked that these statements be stopped in the future.  

Trustee Thalmann responded in a manner that had nothing to do with the issue that Trustee Buxar brought up.  In fact, she took the opportunity to attempt to ‘pat herself on the back’.  Although not captured on video (I was present at the meeting), the expressions on Trustee Giannangeli’s face when Buxar was making her comments were ones of bewilderment.  

The statement that Buxar made was in response to Trustee Giannangeli’s comments at the September 2 Planning Commission meeting.  As reported previously, Trustee Giannangeli made comments regarding the Board’s request for an RFP for the Planning Consulting services BEFORE any such discussion occurred with the entire Board in an open session.

Here is a video of Trustee Buxar’s comments, and Trustee Thalmann’s response:

Here is a link to the previous post regarding Trustee Giannangeli’s inappropriate comments:

Another Open Meeting violation by Oakland Township Board or Gonser’s ‘puppet’ speaking?

 

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  This is yet another example of how several members of the Board fail to recognize their mistakes, and learn from them.  The self rationalization of their actions apparently give them a sense of infallibility that this Township can ill afford.

Richard Michalski