Category Archives: Ethics

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

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

EDITORIAL: Has Gonser Willfully Violated the Law? We Need to Know.

In January this year the Board passed a resolution re-affirming the long-time Township ordinance that places responsibility for managing the township squarely in the office of the professional full-time manager hired by the Board of Trustees. It sent a clear message to Supervisor Gonser that he should act in accordance with the law. The Township Manager was directed to inform the Board of any deviance from that ordinance by the elected Supervisor. There has been no public follow up to this resolution. There have been no facts made public that would indicate that the resolved will of the Board of Trustees has or has not been followed.

What there has been is a constant drumbeat of statements, events and indications that Gonser is not following the law. It is Gonser’s sworn duty uphold the law and to perform the duties of his office to the best of his abilities.  If he is not then the facts must come out and appropriate action must be taken.

I call on the Board of Trustees to launch an official investigation to ascertain with documented facts whether Supervisor Gonser has exceeded the authority of his office. They should call for a thorough search of emails, calendars, phone logs, official documents and correspondence to see whether Gonser has exercised illegal authority or claimed improper responsibility for any facet of any of the enumerated duties of the Township Manager.

I hope they will call on me to testify that I  know that he has intentionally violated the ordinance because I had a conversation with Supervisor Gonser earlier this year in which he told me that he was not abiding by the law.  I had gone to his office hours to ask if he had Board authorization to meet with the Road Commission of Oakland County (RCOC) to discuss his proposal to surface some gravel roads with a “chip-seal” material to improve their durability.  Gonser had spoken at a community meeting about this proposal and his intent to work with the RCOC on this project.  This type of township business is clearly  the authority of the full-time Township Manager under our Ordinance 97.  When I asked him if the Board gave him authority in this matter he said no, but it doesn’t matter because the people who voted for him expected him to be the “leader of the Township” and they would not have voted for him if they knew that all he could do was “chair the meetings”.  He said he was doing the will of the voters.

I hope that they will ask Trustee Ferriolo to detail the facts behind his email to the Rochester Post that reportedly said “Our township operates on a similar system of government as Rochester, and Mr. Gonser refuses to accept his limited role under it.”

I hope that Treasurer Langlois and Trustee Buxar will go public with the facts that they described that led them to propose  the above mentioned Resolution that demanded that Gonser act according to the law.

I hope that the Trustees who devised the interview questions that were asked of all the candidates who were interviewed for the Township Manager’s position about how they would handle this disagreement about legal authority in the Township will speak in detail about what they know that made it important to ask those questions.

I hope that outgoing Township Manager Warren Brown will be asked to detail, on the record, any violations of Ordinance 97 that he has knowledge of.  He was informed of the problem during his interview process and he responded clearly about how he would handle the problem.

This is public business and the Board of Trustees must stop relying on toothless Resolutions.  What is going on is not a secret but the hard actionable facts are being withheld from the public, This is not an academic argument.  Gonser has harmed the Township with this behavior and it is truly in the best interests of Oakland Township to put and end to it.   Effective action is required.

Jim Foulkrod

 

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

The Oakland Township Board of Trustees, at their July 28th meeting, voted 6-0 (Gonser absent) to approve a resolution stating “There has been an inappropriate release of privileged and confidential and/or Attorney/Client protected communications which constitutes a Breach of Trust and is hereby repudiated.” and  further “It is improper to fail to disclose any unauthorized receipt of privileged communications prior to entering deliberations pertaining to matters discussed in the communications.”.

Background

The reasons for the resolution are  the April 28th 2015  findings of an investigation,  authorized by the Board of Trustees on March 24th 2015, conducted by Township Staff and the Attorneys for the Township and the Parks Commission that found:

  • Supervisor Gonser improperly received three emails pertaining to Parks Commission Closed Sessions or containing Parks Commission Attorney/Client privileged communications;
  • Trustee Thalmann had  sent three emails pertaining to Parks Commission or Board of Trustee Closed Sessions or containing  Attorney/Client privileged communications to (variously) Commissioner Rogers, Supervisor  Gonser  and/or unauthorized private citizens.
  • Thalmann had received two emails from Commissioner Rogers pertaining to Parks Commission Closed Sessions or containing  Attorney/Client privileged communications.
  • Commissioner Rogers sent six emails pertaining to Parks Commission Closed Sessions or containing  Attorney/Client privileged communications to (variously) Trustee Thalmann, Supervisor Gonser and/or unauthorized private citizens.

The Parks Commission and the Board of Trustees reviewed these findings at a April 28th 2015 joint meeting and forwarded them to the Oakland County Prosecutor. The Prosecutor’s office reported back on July 15th 2015 that “no basis exists for criminal prosecution and…no laws have been violated.”.

Commissioner Rogers and former Trustee Thalmann, who had resigned during this time period, each stated in various public meetings that they had done nothing wrong, were totally exonerated and were owed apologies.  They did not dispute the findings of the investigation that they had violated  Attorney/Client Confidentiality and Privilege.  They dismissed that as unimportant.

The Board of Trustees felt that, criminal or not, the behavior was improper and important and called for Board action which was taken with the 7/28/15 Resolution.

What are we to think about this? 

We all know about Attorney/Client Confidentiality.  Is it really, as Rogers and Thalmann seem to think,  a matter unworthy of their concern when they are doing the citizen’s business?  We must think not. It is not immaterial.  It is not just a detail.  We would not be alone in being concerned with their attitude.  In an Article “What Attorney-Client Privilege Really Means” by the global law firm Smith, Gambrell & Russell LLP I found this:

The attorney-client privilege is the oldest privilege recognized by Anglo-American jurisprudence. In fact, the principles of the testimonial privilege may be traced all the way back to the Roman Republic, and its use was firmly established in English law as early as the reign of Elizabeth I in the 16th century. Grounded in the concept of honor, the privilege worked to bar any testimony by the attorney against the client.

A legal concept grounded in honor that has been fundamental to jurisprudence in Western Civilization for over five hundred years deserves our respect. Public Officials, elected by the people, cannot act as though it does not apply to them.

Perhaps these breaches of trust had their origin in the leadership,  People who lead an organization have the responsibility to set an example for the practice of strong ethics. Gonser did not inform the Board that he had improperly received protected communications about matters which were immediately important to him.  Also, Supervisor Gonser had, until recently, refused to abide by the Township’s Ordinance 97 which limits the elected Supervisor’s authority with regard to conducting Township business.  He made many decisions and did many things for which he had no authority.  In conversation with me last Spring he explained himself saying that he was elected by people who don’t know that the Supervisor’s power is limited and that they expect him to “be the leader of the Township” and that they didn’t elect him “just to chair meetings and ride in parades”.  Rogers and Thalmann may have just been following a bad example.

Taking another step up the chain of responsibility, lets look at ourselves, the voters.  We elected Rogers, Thalmann and Gonser either by voting in the 2012 August Primary or by not showing up.  At that time the Township had over 12 thousand registered voters.  How many votes did it take for these people to get elected?

  • Gonser  – 1784 votes – 14% of the electorate;
  • Thalmann – 1534 votes -12%  of the electorate;
  • Rogers – 1315 votes -11%  of the electorate.

What Can We Do?

The August 2016 Primary Election is 12 months away.  It is an important election because, in Oakland Township, for whatever reason, our local elections seldom attract Democrat candidates, so the November Elections for Local Offices are not competitive contests. Our Local elections are decided in August.

Let’s learn from these events.  Get active, Get informed, Get on the Ballot, Get to know the Candidates and Get Out The Vote in August.

Jim Foulkrod

Parks Commissioners’ lawsuit against fellow Commission members rejected by Judge for second time

On May 14, 2015, Circuit Court Judge Honorable Leo Bowan rejected, for the second time, the lawsuit filed by Oakland Township Parks Commissioners Ann Marie Rogers and Roger Schmidt, as well as resident Beth Markel, claiming that fellow Parks Commission members had violated the Open Meetings Act.  The original lawsuit was filed in February of 2014.  Hopefully this issue is now behind us.

As previously reported on this website, and in the Oakland Press, Ann Marie Rogers shared ‘Privileged and Confidential’ material with co-plaintiff Beth Markel, former Trustee Thalmann and Supervisor Gonser.  These communications occurred during the litigation period. The matter is being further investigated by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office for possible legal action against Commissioner Rogers and former Trustee Thalmann.

Here is some background on this lawsuit:

  • On February 28, 2014, two Parks and Recreation members, Ann Marie Rogers and Roger Schmidt, along with Beth Markel, the wife of Zoning Board of Appeals member John Markel, (the plaintiffs) filed a lawsuit claiming that PRC members Dave Mackley, Colleen Barkham, Alice Tomboulian and Joseph Peruzzi (the defendants) violated the Open Meeting act through email correspondence.
  • On December 2, 2014, the defendants filed for ‘summary disposition’ of the case.
  • On December 3, 2014, the plaintiffs filed a cross motion for ‘summary disposition’.
  • On February 13, 2015, Circuit Court Judge Honorable Leo Bowan granted the defendants request for summary disposition and dismissed the case. He also dismissed the plaintiff’s request for cross summary disposition as “moot”.

Here is a copy of the February 13, 2015 legal ruling for the lawsuit:

20150213_opinion_fld_ord-grnt_dft_mtn_sd_100867059

  • On March 4, 2014, the plaintiffs made a motion for reconsideration in the decision.
  • On May 14, 2015, the Judge found:

“This Court finds that plaintiffs’ present motion fails to demonstrate a palpable error by which this Court and the parties have been misled.”

The Judge goes on to say:

“This Court finds that the defendants’ reasoning and arguments in their response to the motion for reconsideration accurately states why this Court granted their  – not plaintiffs –  summary disposition.”

Here is a copy of the May 14, 2015 legal ruling for the lawsuit:

20150514 50_Opinion and Order re Motion for Reconsideration

During this time period, Ann Marie Rogers shared a number of ‘Privileged and Confidential’ documents with Beth Markel, Maureen Thalmann, and Supervisor Gonser.  Some of this information pertained to ‘Closed Session’ legal matters.  Here are copies of the Township Attorneys’ discoveries regarding inappropriate sharing of “Privileged and Confidential” material.

Investigation results from PRC attorney

Investigation results from Township Board’s attorney

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township? The Judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit raised by Commissioners Ann Marie Rogers, Roger Schmidt and private citizen Beth Markel, vindicate the other Parks Commission members.  This lawsuit has cost the Township in the form of legal fees and reputation.

Ann Marie Rogers disclosure of ‘Privileged and Confidential’ material with a fellow plaintiff and others is under review by the Oakland County Sheriff Office.  This matter appears to be much more serious than the alleged open meeting act violations that she claimed occurred.  The Judge made his decision on the open meeting matter.  It is now up to the Sheriff’s Office to determine if there is sufficient evidence to warrant prosecutorial action.

Hopefully our citizens will consider the actions of our current Township officials when we vote in 2016.  Oakland Township deserves better!

Richard Michalski

 

Reason for Parks Commissioner Rogers removal from personnel committee now apparent – so why did Schmidt and Rogers storm out of meeting in protest?

The recent findings from the Oakland Township Attorneys’ investigation into the forwarding of Privileged and Confidential material by Parks Commissioner Rogers and former trustee Thalmann shed light on some of the proceedings at the January 14, 2015 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting.  Commissioners Rogers and Schmidt stormed out of that Commission meeting in protest to Ann Marie being removed from Personnel Committee.

At the January 14th meeting, one of the agenda items was the approval of the Chairman Zale’s recommended committee members.  He has the authority to make recommendations, but they must be approved by a majority vote of the Commission.

Chairman Zale recommended that Commissioner Rogers be replaced by Commissioner Perruzi on the Personnel Committee.  Former (in office at that time) Trustee Thalmann attempted to influence Mr. Zale.  However, Mr. Zale indicated he wanted Mr. Perruzi to be on that committee.  Commissioner Rogers objected to the change, and the change was approved in a 5 to 2 vote. Commissioners Rogers and Schmidt were in the minority.

Commissioner Schmidt indicated he did not agree with how the proceedings went, and suggested he would disclose some information that would make visible to the citizens of Oakland Township the reasons for Mr. Zale’s recommendation.

In protest, Commissioners Rogers and Schmidt walked out of the meeting. As they were walking out Mr. Schmidt stated:

“You people are the worst bunch of conniving people that I have ever met in my entire life! “

Earlier he said he wanted to make sure the Commission would be

“accountable for what you have done!”

Here is a video of meeting proceedings as described above:

 

Mr. Schmidt never did present the material that he alluded to in his comment, but the results of the Township Attorneys’ investigation, specifically Ms. Rogers sharing the November 13, 2015 ‘attorney client’ protected documents, gives a very clear indication of the reasons for Mr. Zale’s recommendation.

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  Chairman Zale had the authority to make subcommittee appointments.  Mr. Zale clearly had reasons for making his recommendations.

Walking out of a meeting in the manner that both Mr. Schmidt and Ms. Rogers did is not only unprofessional, but may have violated their oath of office.

Commissioner Schmidt has aligned himself with Ms. Rogers on many issues.  I trust he feels that same way about ‘accountability’ now that Commissioner Rogers’ actions are being investigated by the Oakland County Sheriff’s office.

Oakland Township would be well served if Commissioner Rogers steps down.

Richard Michalski

Related article:

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

Parks Commissioner Ann Marie Rogers attempts to defend her behaviour

In the May 7, 2015 Oakland Press website posting titled,

Report: Oakland Township Parks Commissioner shared confidential emails’,

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ann Marie Rogers attempted to defend her forwarding of ‘privileged and confidential’ material to others by saying she never signed anything preventing her from doing that.  Here is a portion of that article:

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

The wording in the ‘Privileged and Confidential’ statements attached to legal documents always makes it clear what is not to be done with those documents. It appears Commissioner Rogers did not believe it applied to her.

Comments made by others involved in this recent Oakland Township issue appear to shed some light on their value systems.

 

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  Our elected and appointed official’s actions should be based on a generally accepted value system and must be held accountable for their actions.

It is surprising that Parks Commissioner Rogers, after serving on the Parks Commission for over two years, states she was never asked to sign an agreement stating she not share attorney-client communications.  She apparently does not feel anything wrong was done, and has not read the ‘privileged and confidential’ statements on the documents she received.

In an earlier Oakland Press article, former Trustee Thalmann stated she thought she was ‘collateral damage’ and the issue would all ‘go away’ if she resigned. She too apparently does not feel anything wrong was done, and had not read the ‘privileged and confidential’ statements on the documents she received and forwarded.

Here is that Oakland Press article:

Oakland Township board to send email confidentiality breach findings to sheriff’s office

Finally, the husband of the third party involved in receiving some of the ‘privileged and confidential’ material (including ‘closed session’ material) has attempted to justify at various Township meetings, his wife’s receipt of the material, by claiming since they were emails, they were “on a server”, and therefore not secure. He apparently does not feel anything wrong was done.  He has asked that in the future all ‘privileged and confidential’ material be hand delivered in paper form, no emails.  This individual is also a member of the Oakland Township Zoning Board of Appeals, who occasionally receives legal ‘privileged and confidential’ material. Hopefully he has read and understands the wording in the ‘privileged and confidential’ statements.

It is amazing the logic individuals use when they try to justify their unjustifiable behavior.

Oakland Township deserves the best elected and appointed officials.  We hope Commissioner Rogers steps down and a new Commissioner is selected.  We also hope the Oakland Township Board makes a good selection for the vacant seat on the Board in the upcoming meetings.

Richard Michalski