Township organization to be topic of study session

August 16, 2019

Bad blood was aired Monday, August 12, between some members of the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees as two members and dozens of residents called for the creation of a township superintendent position to supersede the current administration.

The measure, presented in a resolution by trustee David Buckley, calls for the creation of a township superintendent position that would effectively reduce the role of the elected township supervisor to that of a ceremonial position that oversees board meetings. The proposed superintendent would oversee the management and supervision of the township as directed by the board of trustees.

Functions of the superintendent, as proposed by Buckley, would include preparing and administering the township's annual budget; the administration of all departments, as well as serving as personnel director of all employees; and other related duties. The role would be like that of a city manager in a council-manager plan where a council has control over certain laws and appoints a city manager to run the city's day-to-day activities.

The proposal builds on the momentum of a landslide election on Tuesday, August 6, in which township voters overwhelmingly rejected a 2.3-mill special assessment district (SAD) for police and fire that would have been used in part to pay for unfunded liabilities related to police and fire retiree benefits. Under a new state law, the township must fund 40 percent of total other post employment benefits (OPEB) liabilities, leaving a $64 million shortfall and annual budget gap of $5 million to $7 million. The SAD proposal was supported by just 37.8 percent of voters in the election. Township Supervisor Leo Savoie was harshly criticized by opponents of the SAD, including trustees Buckley and Dani Walsh, who claimed the township is being mismanaged.

"No matter what action the board takes on this proposal, the people of Bloomfield Township have spoken with profound displeasure as to the status quo in Township Hall," Buckley said on Monday, August 12. "The culture, environment and integrity of our Township Hall is in question and our residents expect action. The goodwill of this board of trustees that once existed with the residents has been squandered, and only positive action will restore some degree of credibility going forward. From my vantage point, this proposal serves as a positive way forward for our community."

Buckley said the model proposed in the resolution has been discussed by the board for several years and shouldn't come as any surprise to the supervisor.

In addition to establishing the superintendent position, Buckley called for the township to return to a five-day work week (city offices are currently opened 40 hours a week, Monday through Thursday); a return of all personal vehicles issued by the township; and to require all employees to contribute 20 percent to healthcare.

Buckley's resolution called for applications for the proposed position be reviewed by October 14, with interviews to follow over the subsequent two weeks.

Walsh said the superintendent position could be paid for through "shared sacrifices," calling for trustees to give up all stipends and serve solely as volunteers; cutting 20 percent of the clerk's salary; making the treasurer position part-time and cutting 50 percent of the position's salary; and making the supervisor's hours part-time and cutting 50 percent of the position's salary.

"That would give us more than enough money to hire someone with the qualifications that none of us have," Walsh said. "This isn't about just one person, it's about the entire board that's up here, and if you look at the qualifications of a superintendent, none of us have it."

Treasurer Brian Kepes said the concept of the resolution is simple, and is also "shortsighted and it's in a vacuum."

"You don't take one position and say that's how it's going to be without looking at the context of the whole organization, including departments and other areas that may have to pick up ... it does need to be looked at. This board has talked about it long before, and it probably is appropriate to do it now," Kepes said. "In terms of Dani's (Walsh) comments, I think you should speak for yourself. If you don't feel qualified, I would agree with you. But that's your issue, not mine."

Trustee Neil Barnett said he also disagreed. "I think we do have the ability on this board to make the appropriate cuts," Barnett said. "Two of you wanted to address them before the SAD, and that's fine. That was your decision and it didn't pass.

"We got the message. That's something we need to work on, and what we need to work on quickly is make the appropriate cuts. I think that should be our mission right now."

Barnett suggested the board set a study session at a later time to discuss the proposal in the resolution.

Trustee Michael Schostak also said a study session would be appropriate, as there are several questions that need to be discussed as the board looks into the matter.

Township Supervisor Leo Savoie said he also supported looking into the matter, but suggested looking at all positions, not just the role of the supervisor.

"I applaud this. This is part of governance, it's part of good governance, but we should look at it from every specific position, whether it's supervisor, whether it's clerk, whether it's treasurer," Savoie said. "There are some very, very valid points that have been made, that some people may be more qualified, some may be less qualified. Coming in as supervisor, I found the three most important things that you can understand are the finances, the personnel and the real estate within a community. I think there are good qualified people out there and you put good qualifications out there."

Buckley initially rejected the suggestion of scheduling a study session to discuss the matter, insisting the board should move forward.

"I have usually yielded to the board for an opportunity to discuss this, but this is a major emergency," Buckley said. "You were tone deaf since last August on this issue, and we need to move forward."

A motion by Buckley to adopt the resolution failed as it garnered no support from other board members.

The board subsequently approved a motion to schedule a study session to discuss the resolution on or before September 12. That motion passed unanimously.

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