Limit further damage Devine can inflict

January 1, 2016

We called five months ago for Bloomfield Township Treasurer Dan Devine to step down from his position in hopes of putting an end to a pattern of disruptive and, frankly, bizarre behavior. It now falls upon the township's board of trustees to take appropriate actions to limit how much more damage Devine can do to the community.

Problems in the township government have become increasingly problematic since 2011, when Leo Savoie, then a trustee, was appointed supervisor over Devine – who basically felt the job was his birthright. Efforts inside township hall to improve workplace relationships and foster teamwork have been met with resistance from Devine (when he shows up, which employees and elected officials assert is between 10 to 15 percent of the time), which has only served to worsen the situation.

First, there are Devine's attempts to discredit Savoie through a series of allegations made to local police, state elections officials, and through a lawsuit against Savoie and the township – which was dismissed on December 16, as unfounded. Then there are repeated instances where we feel, as have many board members, that Devine has failed to fulfill his duties as treasurer. Further, attempts to rectify shortcomings on the treasurer's part have been met by resistance from Devine, who sees any encroachment to his position as a personal attack leading to allegations by him of retaliation.

Devine first attempted to discredit the supervisor by filing a complaint with state election officials claiming Savoie essentially accepted a bribe by taking an illegal campaign contribution from one of the township's contractor firms. The state dismissed the allegation, finding no supporting facts.

In May, Devine's allegations became far more ridiculous when he told police he believed Savoie may have been behind a plot to “kidnap” his adult daughter and "throw her in his trunk" when she failed to return Devine's phone calls for part of a day while she was actually at work as a substitute teacher. That, along with millions of dollars lost in investment income from retiree investment accounts, which Devine oversees, led the township board to publicly censure Devine.

While we hoped that Devine would have considered leaving office, or at least accepting responsibility for the part he has played in disrupting the government, he instead increased his antics, suing the township and Savoie. As trustee Neal Barnett plainly put it, "It's right out of the Dan Devine playbook. When you see you're being attacked, you attack. The real victim is Bloomfield Township."

In an attempt to ease tensions at township hall, the supervisor last summer hired a psychologist and consultant to meet with elected officials and department heads in an effort to facilitate teamwork and tackle challenges at township hall. The doctor's verbal report: don't waste your money.

However, it's clear that Devine has and will continue to waste the township's money and attempt to besmirch the good name of its employees and officials in his attempt to deflect criticism. Take for instance Devine's comments at a November 9 board of trustees meeting, in which Devine accused township financial advisor Jason Theis of failing to properly vet firms bidding to review the township's defined benefit pension plan. At that meeting – in which he abstained from voting, despite state law that requires him as an elected treasurer in a charter township, to vote – Devine falsely accused Theis of not checking the bidders' references, although he had sufficiently followed directions from the township's financial sustainability committee. 

The meeting is just one instance of Devine's attempts to obstruct the board's move to provide additional oversight on the investments since revelations in 2014 that the township may have been overpaying on investment fees related to retirement pension liabilities. The charges were presented to the board, not by Devine, but by several residents who work in the financial management field. When the supervisor hired an outside firm to review the fees, Devine, again, labeled it as part of a vendetta by Savoie.

More recently, Devine accused the township board of trying to fire him and indicated the board was attempting to send him to jail as its fiduciary, in its motion to approve an amendment to the township’s Health Care Benefit Trust, or VEBA. The motion, which involved the retiree's VEBA, under the township's water and sewerage department, was found to be both legal and necessary by township attorney Bill Hampton. Yet, Devine spent more of the township's money by hiring attorneys at Clark Hill to provide a report on the issue, even asking them to revise an ordinance trustees had already approved. 

Devine spends much of his time telling everyone he is an attorney with a great deal of expertise, and a seasoned treasurer. If that's the case, one, how did he miss transferring the VEBA funds to the proper account; and two, why did he need an opinion from a law firm besides one the township has on retainer? 

Interestingly, despite all of the treasurer's claims of wrongdoing by others, it's Devine who is in fact under scrutiny for not following the state's campaign finance law.

In July, Devine filed paperwork with the Michigan Secretary of State to change his campaign fund into a legal defense fund, citing legal action to defend against removal from public office, as well as his public censure on July 13, 2015. However, the secretary of state's office says the use of campaign contributions for a legal defense fund is a violation of state law. The matter is still under investigation.

In light of Devine's continued attacks on the township, its employees and elected officials, as well as an utter lack of confidence in his ability to oversee township investments – and an inability to remove him through recall or the slim likelihood of the governor removing him from office – the township board must now take action to limit further damage Devine can cause to the township.

First, only one person should be able to seek out legal advice on behalf of the township or approve others to do so and that traditionally in most townships is the supervisor. Someone must be in charge of who can encumber the township with legal fees. The board should take swift and clear action to ensure such unauthorized legal expenditures by the treasurer don't occur again.

Additionally, the board of trustees and the township's financial sustainability committee should recommend how to prevent, or at least severely limit, Devine from handling township investments. There are trustees with investment knowledge, such as Brian Kepes, who have expressed interest in adding one or two trustees as co-fiduciaries, which we think would be an excellent oversight move. Further, the township board should also recognize the excellent qualifications Theis brings to the table, and consider how to maximize his value to the township by involving him in the investments of the township as its financial director, even if that means upping his pay somewhat for the additional responsibility. If allowed by law, cut Devine out completely. Period.

Lastly, it is imperative the board revisit the prospect of making the treasurer's seat a part-time position in future elections – a matter we believe must be done now in order to get qualified candidates to file for treasurer come the spring 2016 deadline.

Dan Devine has been Bloomfield Township Treasurer since 1999. It is safe to say he may have cost the community millions in lost investment revenue and thousands more to defend a frivolous lawsuit, when he sued the township and Savoie because he was publicly spanked – via a formal censure – for poor job performance and inappropriate behavior. At meetings, he is an obstructionist, and he often shows his lack of understanding of what needs to be done, even if the agenda item pertains to an area where he should have expertise. He has created a tense atmosphere in township hall for all employees. As one trustee said at a recent meeting, Devine is “delusional,” almost what one would expect from the classic village idiot, not the treasurer of a large urban township. 

Bloomfield Township must be protected from future damage Devine can inflict upon it. The time to act is now.

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