We want readers to know in advance that what you are about to read has been under discussion for months in the offices of Downtown Publications. The editorial opinion presented below is made after much consideration as the only publication that has provided consistent, detailed coverage the past couple of years of ongoing problems in Bloomfield Township government, our review of state law and countless conversations with a variety of municipal officials, locally and beyond the immediate Birmingham/Bloomfield area.
As we went to press with the August issue, the municipal offices of Bloomfield Township are an uncomfortable place in which to work, and eventually this state of turmoil could spread to affect those hoping to do business with the township.
The cause of that disruption can be laid at the feet of township treasurer Dan Devine, and chronologically dates back to August 2011 when the supervisor at the time retired and Leo Savoie was appointed to take over as the head of the township, much to the chagrin of Devine. The treasurer's attitude was, and still is, that somehow he had a birthright for the top job in the township, given that the two prior supervisors had been elevated to that position from the treasurer's office. It has been downhill since then, to put it mildly.
Anything that has been proposed by the current supervisor for the sake of bettering the functionality of the township government that perhaps didn't follow past practices has been twisted to look like Savoie was somehow out to “get” Devine, at least in his mind and the minds of his supporters.
It goes without saying that the township has some financial challenges when it comes to retirement pension liabilities in Bloomfield. The community did attempt to deal with the problem by issuing pension obligation bonds in the last two years to wipe out long-term liability and reduce the annual outgo of taxpayer funds.
But then there arose the issue of what many consider the murky situation surrounding fees paid out to an investment firm handling the many millions from the bond issue. Devine, on more than one occasion, led the board to believe that there was a set amount of fees involved in making these investments but in reality the costs turned out to be many times more than publicly represented. In fact, it wasn't Devine who alerted the board but several residents who are in the financial management field who brought it to light to the full-time officials that $160,000 in projected fees turned into $490,000, based on changes in investments and fee payouts outlined in the current contract with the investment firm. We won't say that Devine or the investment firm lied to the township board, but certainly obfuscatory answers were raised to the level of an art form when anyone tried to get the straight skinny on what had gone wrong.
When the township supervisor hired an outside firm to review the fees paid on investments, Devine labeled it part of a vendetta by Savoie. Likewise, Devine objected to the formation of a strictly advisory financial panel being formed to help sort through the mess on the pensions, and had been less than receptive to suggestions that future contracted services, like on investments, should be bid out. Thankfully the board is moving ahead on these issues.
But then there was the realization that another retirement fund not covered by the bond issue was failing to perform, to the tune of at least $5 million annually, and last year, $20 million in shortfalls, which is basically sucking away gains from other investments. While technically state law provides that the township board directs the investment of public funds, it is customary for the municipal treasurer to keep the board informed and make recommendations on investments, so Devine – in office for 16 years – has to take the bulk of the criticism for the township investment issues. Plain and simple.
Add to the list the completely unfounded claim Devine made to state elections officials that the supervisor had accepted an illegal campaign contribution – or bribe, if you will – from one of the township's long-time contractor firms – which the state found not to be supported by the facts. Another weak attempt by Devine to sully the reputation of Savoie.
The latest development involving Devine is his unfounded allegations in a police report in early May, asserting that the supervisor or friends of his had possibly “kidnapped his daughter and thrown her in the trunk of his car,” when she was actually at a substitute teaching job, which led the township board to publicly censure Devine.
So what are the options in terms of the Devine situation?
There is the possibility of asking the governor to remove him from office, which is a long shot. There is also the option of recalling Devine, but it would have to be pulled off by this November because state law protects an official from being recalled in either the first or last year of a current term of office.
So we call on Dan Devine to immediately resign from office so the township can move ahead from the negative situation he has created.
As for the township board, trustees should immediately take up the March proposal by Savoie to reduce the treasurer's job to a lesser status, with a severely reduced salary that more accurately reflects the role of this office, effective with the 2016 election or should the office become vacant prior to that time.
The township has long had a hired financial director, who actually performs most of the financial duties of the treasurer. And, as outlined by law, the township has an appointed deputy treasurer. So electing a local resident just because it is required by state law, no matter their qualifications, to be the manager of township tax collections and investments is an archaic approach to good government, at least in developed urban townships like Bloomfield. Better that this office be officially changed to a part-time position, while still a voting member of the board, and go about the business of hiring trained professionals for staff positions to handle the important tasks at hand. After all, that is really how Devine has handled his current position, part-time and not always being part of the ratings calls with the ratings agencies, including the critical one several years ago under a previous supervisor when the township was granted its AAA rating.
We understand there are some diehard Republicans in the township who are Devine fans, primarily because he shows up at Oakland County GOP meetings, as we are often told. But, figuratively speaking, turning chickens on the grill at the GOP picnics does not qualify someone for holding the office of treasurer.
Because of Devine's poor performance in office, coupled with a paranoid world view and what some say is a questionable mental state, he has become a negative force in the township. For the benefit of the community, Devine must step down,
before anything worse can happen.