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.”.
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.