Bloomfield Hills City Commissioners concerned with the creation of a non-profit organization designed to accept private contributions to the city's public safety department updated the city's donation policy at their meeting on Tuesday, July 9, to require all such gifts be approved by the city manager or city commission.
The commission in June spoke with public safety director Noel Clason and officer Christopher Furlong about the formation of the Friends of Bloomfield Hills Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization set up to accept donations on behalf of the public safety department. While the organization's creation was several years in the making, commissioners had only recently learned of the organization in a monthly update to council from Bloomfield Hills City Manager David Hendrickson.
Furlong, who put in much of the effort to form the organization, said he did so at the suggestion he received from a teacher at a grant writing school he attended who recommended the formation of a non-profit, as the city fails to meet the financial requirements of many grant projects. However, city commissioners voiced concerns about the organization, as it could give the appearance of conflict of interests in those overseeing it and where the funds are deposited, even if an actual legal conflict didn't exist.
Commissioners also expressed consternation about the formation of the organization without their knowledge or consent.
"I think everyone's intentions were good, but I think this is a good policy," commissioner Sarah McClure said about the organization and subsequent donation policy. "I think this policy clarifies everything and puts us in the best practices area. ... This is what the county does so that any gift, not just to public safety, but any gift will be listed in the (commission) packet. I know the county does that for anything over $1."
The city's policy, which was unanimously approved by commissioners, requires that all "donations, contributions and/or gifts of cash, equipment and/or other property or services" with a value of $1,000 or less be accepted only for public purpose and are approved by for acceptance and receipt by the city manager. Such donations with a value greater than $1,000 must be referred to the city commission by the city manager. In cases where the value is unknown or in question, the city manager is to forward the issue to the city commission for a final decision.
The policy requires that all donations are for "public purpose," and that the city not be obligated to accept any proposed donation. Other factors in the acceptance of a donation include a determination of whether it would require any future expenditures by the city, such as maintenance, insurance or other costs. The city shall not accept donations that are used for the purpose of paying city employee overtime, wages and/or benefits, or those that impact any matters provided for in collective bargaining agreements between the city and employees.
While the policy doesn't expressly prohibit the existence of the creation of the Friends of Bloomfield Hills foundation, it effectively prohibits the ability to accept donations on behalf of the public safety department, as well as any other such organizations.
"I think with this we are just having the highest ethical standards and transparency that makes it clear and easy to understand," city commissioner William Hosler said.