Tag Archives: Jeanne Langlois

Civility will return to Oakland Township! Our reputation restored!

Congratulations! Our collective efforts have been successful!

Voting_icon

Here are the names of the unofficial winners of the Oakland Township Board positions for 2016-2020 – pending the results of the November election:

Supervisor – Mike Bailey

Treasurer – Jeanne Langlois

Clerk – Karen Reilly

Trustee – Robin Buxar

Trustee – Frank Ferriolo

Trustee – John Giannangeli

Trustee – Lana Mangiapane  (only member of Terry Gonser’s ‘ticket’)

Here are the names of the unofficial winners of the Oakland Township Parks and Recreation Commission positions for 2016-2020 – pending the results of the November election:

Emily Barkham

Craig Blust

Dan Bukowski

Colin Choi

Cathy Rooney

Daniel Simon

Hank Van Agen

In addition, both the Parks renewal millage and the OPC transportation millage were approved.

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?

With these public servants:

  • Civil, ethical and professional behavior will be restored at both the Board and Parks Commission level.
  • Turmoil regarding the form of governance in Oakland Township will be eliminated.
  • The certainty of the position of Township Manager will enable us to have the most qualified professional municipal manager run the day to day operations in the Township.
  • Conflicts between the Board and the Parks and Recreation Commission will be eliminated.
  • The great reputation of our Township will be restored.

Will there be difficult and contentious issues our community will have to deal with?  Absolutely!  Will there be differences of opinion on how to resolve the issues?  Absolutely!

However, we have seen how the returning Board members have developed and worked together as a team over the past few years.  Our future looks bright!

Thanks to all the great candidates that chose to run for office!  Thanks to the retiring Parks and Recreation Commission members for ‘vetting’ the new Commission’s candidates, so their legacy will continue!  Thanks to the countless others that helped get the new officials elected! Thanks to all those who have been following this website!  Thanks to all of those who contributed to the ‘Oakland Township Watchers Action Committee’ for helping to make the election results a success!

BUT, most of all, thanks to all those who voted!

YOUR VOTE COUNTED!

Richard Michalski & Jim Foulkrod

 

 

 

Six of seven Township Board members announce their candidacy for Board positions

This year is a major election year.  Not only will we be voting for the President, but our Township Board and Parks and Recreation Commission positions will be on the ballot.  As you may recall, the primary election will take place on August 2, 2016.  The general election will be November 8, 2016.  Please put these dates on your calendar.

The editors of this website received a letter from one of the current Board members announcing the following:

For immediate release:

Six of the current members of the Oakland Township Board of Trustees have announced their candidacies for the November 2016 election.

Mike Bailey, trustee, is running for Township Supervisor. Mr Bailey has been a trustee since 2008 and previously served 20 years on the Planning Commission, the last several years as its chairman.

Township Clerk Karen Reilly is running for re-election. She is currently serving her first 4-year term as Clerk.

Township Treasurer Jeanne Langlois is running for re-election. She is currently serving her first 4-year term as Treasurer. She is also a member of the township Safety Paths and Trails Committee.

Robin Buxar, trustee, is running for re-election. She was appointed to the township board in November 2013 and elected to the position in 2014.

John Giannangeli, trustee, is running for re-election. He was appointed to the township board in April 2014 and elected to the position in 2014. He also serves on the township Planning Commission (since October 2013) and previously served on the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Board of Review.

Frank Ferriolo, trustee, is running for trustee. He was appointed to the township board in May 2015. He also serves as a member of the Paint Creek Trailways Commission.

It should be noted that current Trustee Mike Bailey has decided to run for Supervisor.

The campaign season has begun, and this website will provide information on the candidates as information becomes available.  We hope that it will help our citizens make informed decisions in August and November. Any editorial comments will be noted as such.

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township? The primary election is usually the more important election for the local positions since that is when the political parties nominate their candidates.  Since our community usually elects the Republican candidates in the general election, the election in August will most likely determine who will sit on our Township Board and Parks Commission.  Please make sure you vote on August 2nd.

Richard Michalski

 

Blossom Ridge (and Carillon Creek) development approved by Township Board

On February 2, 2016, the Oakland Township Board voted to approve a proposed Consent judgment settlement regarding the Blossom Ridge Senior development. The agreement also included a second parcel on the corner of Adams and Silverbell (by the Church). The Blossom Ridge issue has had many posts on this website over the years. It has been a contentious issue during this Board’s entire administration. In fact, every member of the Board played a role in having this issue proceed to a referendum vote in the summer of 2013.

The legal advice from our Township Attorney, and Judge Howard, clearly played a role in having the majority of the Board vote to approve this Consent Judgment. The vote was five to two, with Treasurer Langlois and Clerk Reilly being the dissenting vote.  Their objections centered on the fact that they did not think that the agreement should have included the second parcel (Carillon Creek parcel), even though our Township Attorney stated that a mutually agreeable solution to the Blossom Ridge parcel was not possible without consideration of the second parcel due to demands made by the Board on the Blossom Ridge parcel.

Most of the Board members shared the rationale for their decisions in great depth (exception being Clerk Reilly), and can be seen by visiting the Township website link included below.

Trustee Buxar summarized her decision by using a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King:

“Cowardice asks the question – Is it safe?

Expediency ask the question – Is is political?

Vanity asks the question – Is it popular?

Conscience asks the question – Is it right?

And there comes a time when one must take a position that is not, safe, political, or popular, but must make it simply because it is right!”

Here is a link to the Township’s website:

http://vp.telvue.com/player?id=T02627

Once you go to the website:

On Playlist tab, click on Board of Trustees 2016
On Video tab, click on February 2, 2016 BOT meeting
On Chapter tab, click on Chapter 3

The following link to a press release provides additional information on the agreement

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/settlement-agreement-provides-expanded-housing-152100205.html?soc_src=mediacontentstory&soc_trk=ma

So what does that Township get out of this agreement?

  • A Senior Assisted Living development that meets our ordinances and community needs.
  • A Senior Health and Wellness Center that meets our ordinances and community needs.
  • Eliminates the burden of Township having to prove it has provided ‘reasonable accommodations’ to a protected class of citizens.
  • Eliminates the potential $17M in delayed damage.
  • Eliminates the loss of being covered by our Insurance Company.
  • Decreases the potential density on the Research Laboratory zoned parcel.
  • Eliminates the potential for oil and gas drilling and cell towers on the parcels.
  • Accessible parkland available to the public in the portion of Township with the highest residential density.
  • Protects the Township against future similar lawsuits if the Carillon Creek parcel gets rezoned to the zoning districts as proposed by our attorney.
  • Township continues to have Engineering Control over the proposed developments.
  • Plan includes a restaurant in our community that our recent survey indicates is a desire of our residents.
  • Developer contributes $400,000 for a water storage facility to help improve seasonal water pressure issues (location will be determined by County water resource commission.)
  • Developer contributes $200,000 for an Advanced Life Support vehicle.
  • Developer contributes up to $125,000 in matching funds for a Veteran’s Memorial facility.

Finally, the biggest win for our Township is that we get this divisive issue behind us and heal the rift in our Township.

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  The passage of this consent Judgment puts this contentious issue behind us.  The five Board members who voted to approve the agreement made their decision concluding that it was in the best interest of the Township.  Their decision was made in spite of their earlier concerns over the initial proposed development.  They need to be commended for taking that action.

Citizens should consider whether the decisions made by two of our top Township officials, (Treasurer Langlois and Clerk Reilly), really were made in the best interest of the Township.

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

 

Township subsidizing developers? Board identifies accounting error – reduces retainer fees for legal services in Oakland Township – still many unanswered questions

At the July 28, 2015 Oakland Township Board meeting, the Board revised the contract with the Township’s legal firm, Giarmarco, Mullins and Horton P. C.  The monthly retainer fee was reduced by $750.  Treasurer Langlois stated the reduction was done for a ‘more proper’ allocation of expenses regarding legal services.  Trustee Bailey indicated that there were some legal service fees that were put ‘erroneously’ into the General fund that should have been billed to ‘other people’. 

The change to the contract is welcomed. As previously reported on this website, the legal service fees for our Township have almost doubled since the new Board was elected in 2012.  This recently discovered error explains a portion of the reason for the higher expenditure, but does raise several questions regarding whether the Township has been subsidizing developers, and whether we can retroactively recover those costs.

The Board also missed an opportunity to clarify an issue that had been repeated raised by former Trustee Thalmann regarding ‘double coverage’ for legal services for the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Treasurer Langlois proposed the change in the contract to:

“facilitate a more proper allocation of the expenses regarding the legal services to the accounts and funds that make use of those.”

Trustee Bailey stated:

“One of the advantages of what you are proposing is that we’ll be billing appropriately the people that should be billed for these legal services. Whereas before, they were kind of all,  much of them, or some of them at least were put into the General Fund erroneously or not correctly, and were funded by our General Fund.”

The author of this post raised several questions at the meeting.  They are restated here:

  • Have all the charges that should have been charged to the developer’s escrow funds been identified?
  • If they have been identified, have they been correctly charged to those accounts?
  • If they have not been identified, will they be identified?
  • If not, have the Township citizens essentially been subsidizing the developers?
  • Are there other consultant fees, beyond the legal fees, that have improperly been charged to the Township?

The Board did not respond to any of the questions raised.

The author also pointed out a missed opportunity to clarify an issue regarding the legal fees for the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Former Trustee Thalmann repeatedly complained that the legal retainer fee includes legal support for the Park’s Commission, but that the Parks Commission continues to use Joppich’s firm resulting in double payment for services.  The Board members never corrected her repeated claims. As a result, the citizens were left to believe that the monthly retainer fee WAS intended to cover the Parks Commission.

Based on that assumption, an analysis was undertaken to look at the historical expense for legal fees for the Parks and Recreation Commission prior to the Board changing law firms.

The six year average for Parks and Recreation legal services, prior to this Board taking office, was approximately $5,000 per year. As a result, the monthly retainer fee with Giarmarco, Mullens & Horton, P.C. should be further reduced by $416 per month, or $5,000 for the year, to reflect that they are not providing Park’s Commission legal support.

Once again, the Board refused to respond to the question and suggestion.

Here is a video of Treasurer Langlois and Trustee Bailey’s comments at the meeting.

 

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  As previously reported, the legal expense for our Township has almost doubled since the current Board took office.  The following graph shows this historical and projected trend.

Oakland Township Legal expense

(click on graph to enlarge)

The recent discovery, that we have not been charging developer’s escrow funds for legal services, is a direct result of the inquiries raised on this website.  The Board needs to address the questions raised in THIS posting, so the citizens understand how much we may have subsidized developers and if the fees can retroactively be recovered. They also need to clarify whether the retainer fee is intended to cover Parks and Recreation legal support, as had previously been claimed by former Trustee Thalmann, and not challenged by the Board.

There are a number of other financial ‘transparency’ issues that will be brought up in later posts.  The Board still needs to make a case for why legal service fees have almost doubled during their tenure.

Here are some previous posts on this subject:

Attorney bills out of control in Oakland Township?

July 14th UPDATE: Attorney bills out of control in Oakland Township? Accounting error found!

 

Richard Michalski

July 14th UPDATE: Attorney bills out of control in Oakland Township? Accounting error found!

At the July 14, 2015 Oakland Township Board meeting, Treasurer Langlois indicated that the expense for the legal (and possibly the other Township consultant) reviews of development proposals have not been properly allocated to the appropriate escrow accounts.  This expense has been included in the monthly $9,000 legal retainer fee the Township Board approved shortly after they came into office.  Treasurer Langlois indicated that this discovery might result in changes to the contract that the Township has with the Township’s legal firm.   

This discovery raises many other questions regarding how the Township handles our legal bills.  Treasurer Langlois’ investigation into this matter was a result of the previous post on this website:  

 Attorney bills out of control in Oakland Township?”  

Here are excerpts from Treasurer Langlois’ July 14th comments:

“I found that some expenses for Township reviews have not been passed along to the respective escrow accounts set up by applicants as outlined and required by our current ordinances.

I anticipate meeting with our Legal Counsel to request that the billing be modified, or the format of the billing be modified to assist us in properly allocating these costs.

Accomplishing this internal fix of our Township expense allocation will actually lower the amount of legal expense being charged to our General Fund, and properly allocating them to the escrow accounts which are funded by applications primarily submitted through the Planning Department.

If there is any change to the contract with our Legal Counsel necessary, that will obviously come back to the Board.”

Treasurer Langlois repeatedly referred to this as an internal allocation issue.  However, if the cost for the township attorney reviewing development plans was never detailed out as part of the retainer fee, the Township may never have recovered the costs from the developer’s escrow accounts.  To do so would have required another ‘set of books’ (or billing statements).  How much money has not been recovered from the developer’s escrow accounts since early 2013?

The author of this post contacted our previous Superintendent (or Manager) to understand how the legal expense for reviewing developer’s plans were previously ‘booked’.  He confirmed that the billing statements from the previous law firm explicitly called out the cost for those services, and were immediately ‘booked’ against the escrow account.  All of this changed in early 2013 when the newly elected Board hired the new law firm.  Treasurer Langlois, and the other Board members elected in 2012, agreed to the retainer fee approach and the changes implemented at that time.

An obvious question remains whether the cost for the legal (& possibly other consultant) reviews were ever ‘recovered’ through the escrow accounts since the new Board took office.  We may never be able to identify and recover the costs incurred since early 2013.

The recent discovery may just be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ regarding the justification for the higher legal expenses in our Township since the new Board came into office.  In the previous post regarding the legal expense issues, the author of this post made several recommendations.  They are shown below in the hopes that Treasurer Langlois and the Board consider them to improve the transparency of our Township’s legal bills.

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.

Here is a graph showing the Township’s historical legal fees:

Oakland Township Legal expense

(Click on graph to enlarge)

Here is a video of Treasurer Langlois’ comments:

 

Why is this important to the citizens of Oakland Township?  It appears that a number of new questions have arisen as a result of the previous post on this subject.  It also appears that the recent audit of our Township financials did not discover that our financial processes are not in compliance with our ordinances.  Continued citizen scrutiny of what is going on is necessary to make sure we understand how our money is being spent (and if appropriate, recovered).

Richard Michalski

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