Brooks has an undergraduate degree and masters degrees in labor and industrial relations from Michigan State University and a law degree from University of Michigan. He is an attorney and partner with Ogletree Deakins, and previously served on the Bloomfield Hills Schools board.
As one of three full-time elected positions in the township offices, along with the supervisor and the treasurer, the clerk has a full load of statutory duties. Explain what the duties of a township clerk are. What kind of experience and qualifications does an individual need, besides the basic requirement of being a resident over the age of 18, to be a good township clerk?
The clerk leads a department of public employees to administer elections, provide community services, administer legal duties, and create/maintain official township records. Leading this department requires experience supervising employees, managing projects, establishing and adhering to budgets, document/reporting management, and solving/avoiding complex business/legal problems. The clerk also is one voting member of the township board. Boardmanship requires working collaboratively with other elected officials and being an open and transparent leader who listens closely, advocates effectively, builds coalitions, and displays the creativity to think anew about difficult problems. This question points to the heart of the voter’s choice – the relative qualifications of the candidates. I am the candidate with the experience that this job demands. I am a partner at an international law firm with 24 years of experience practicing labor and employment law. I am accustomed to performing the functions required of our clerk and leading people through very difficult situations whether they work in the boardroom or janitor’s closet. Also, during similarly contentious times, I successfully served the community as trustee and president on the Bloomfield Hills School Board, a governmental organization with more employees and a larger budget than the township.
Michigan voters in 2018 approved changes to state voting law. What are the key changes that voters approved? Have local communities like Bloomfield Township adhered to the new voting changes? Please be specific.
I believe democracy is the founding principal of our country and that voting is a central right and duty of all Americans. I supported Proposal 3, which the voters approved in 2018. The changes it made to the constitution were to provide for straight-ticket voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and no-reason absentee voting. In essence, it expanded access to voting – a core tenant I strongly support. The proposal requires that clerks open their offices at least eight hours on the Friday and/or Saturday before election day. Our current clerk exceeded that minimum and I will continue that tradition as well. Bloomfield Township has a history of strong voter participation and I will personally take it upon myself to set the conditions for even better registration and voting numbers while also diligently ensuring the accuracy of voter files and compliance with all legal requirements.
PROPOSED ELECTION LEGISLATION
There are several pending bills in the state legislature which could potentially assist municipal clerks with the increase of absentee ballots, coordination with local post offices, and ability to process them before election day. What is your perspective on each of the bills, and why or why do you not support them? Please elaborate.
I am running to be clerk because of its role in administering democracy in the township. I will take the clerk’s role in administering our elections as a sacred duty to you, our state, and our country. To protect democracy and voting, we must (1) entrust administering elections to competent professionals; (2) provide the tools and resources necessary to run secure and efficient elections; and (3) design voting rules that both prevent/detect fraud and allow all Americans to participate. I will support and advocate for passage of current and future proposed legislation that accomplishes these goals. I am currently aware to two pending bills that meet my test. Both are introduced by State Sen. Ruth Johnson and have bipartisan support. SB 756 will allow absentee ballot election workers to take shifts. Also, I support SB 757 which will allow opening absentee ballot return envelopes the day before the election. It is important to note that opening ballot envelopes does not mean counting votes – that must still happen on the day of the election.
Many changes have been made to the Freedom of Information Act over the last few years. What are your views on government transparency? Does FOIA go too far or not far enough?
FOIA is the bare minimum and not nearly enough. Conversely, I would resist anyone who wants to weaponize FOIA to damage or hinder township services. The central problem right now is that the township engages in compliance transparency when proactive transparency and true openness are what citizens expect and deserve. Therefore, I would make the clerk office a model of transparency with a “transparency first – transparency always” motto. Specifically, I would establish a community committee that would help define/design what information will be proactively shared on an annual basis because residents should not need to use FOIA to learn about the inner workings of their government. I would ensure meeting agendas and pre-meeting materials are timely and thorough enough so board members and citizens alike can participate. I would push more information to the community through listserves where residents can sign-up for to receive agendas, pre-meeting materials, and minutes directly from the clerk. Accountability is the true purpose of government openness and transparency. Citizens deserve to have access to the information about their government so they can hold it accountable, re-elect those deserving and vote out those underserving.
How familiar are you with your community's master plan and zoning ordinances? Is there a part of the master plan or an ordinance that you feel needs to change?
I review the township ordinances from time-to-time. The one glaring omission that I will advocate to correct is adoption of an ethics ordinance. Many townships and cities have such an ordinance, including Birmingham. This ethics ordinance would replace the toothless ethics policy. Importantly, this ordinance would have the force of law, plus a complaint and enforcement mechanism. The definition of “ethics” is best left to the community – that is why I advocate for a community committee to address this issue and create a common understanding of the ethical boundaries. The master plan is not a strategic plan. The master plan concerns land use and it was last prepared in 2007. While the master plan has been updated from time-to-time, the community should be re-engaged and our master plan should be redone to be sure the balancing of land use interests remain consistent with current resident goals. Additionally, Bloomfield Township needs a strategic plan that addresses all functions of the township. The township prepared a strategic plan during the great recession, but it lapsed years ago.
This past year, a township trustee introduced the concept of a township superintendent, who would supersede the supervisor and act similarly to a city manager in running the township. What are your thoughts on this idea, and why do you think it would, or would not, work for Bloomfield Township?
Moving the township from a supervisor governance model to a superintendent model is legal. Whether this would benefit the residents should be studied and not rejected or adopted out of hand. Plus, we need time and distance from the ongoing acrimony that have inflamed the politics surrounding the township board be ensure this decision is not personal or emotional. I will advocate for a study for two reasons. First, school districts work under this arrangement and from my six years on the school board and term as president of the board, I thought this arrangement worked well. Second, Michigan cities have a non-partisan elected city council that hires a city manager. Since cities and school districts do this, why not townships? I do not know the answer, but like all major decisions I will undertake as clerk, I will not reject or commit to it without a fully open and thorough investigation to determine if the change would benefit the residents.
REUNIFYING THE COMMUNITY
There has been an increased lack of civility at township board meetings and social media postings, contributing to a divisiveness and lack of respect and cordiality. Given the very public struggles that have taken place in the township, what would be your plan to unify the community and the staff?
When it comes to bad conduct, there has been more than enough to go around. At times, certain township board members have been tone deaf and demonstrated contempt for community members. On the other hand, certain community members have been extreme, inflammatory, and down-right mean. This acrimony started years ago and has been allowed to fester. Few stood-up, called time-out, and had the strength to practice the nearly lost art of compromise. To heal and restore, everyone needs to be more respectful, more collaborative, and must be willing to compromise where possible. Reducing the current level of acrimony will not happen overnight, but voters can kick-start the healing by electing new independent voices unassociated with the divisiveness. As clerk, just as I did as a school board trustee during acrimonious times, I will model civility, lead with empathy, listen first, and insist upon openness/transparency/ effectiveness. I will operate the clerk department impartially with passion and cool efficiency.
RACISM AS HEALTH CRISIS
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared racism as a public health crisis and is appointing a committee to address this issue and has ordered implicit bias training for all state employees, including everyone in the administration. Should Bloomfield Township be taking any special action or creating policies or programs to address this issue on the local level? Please provide details for your response.
A well-run government solves problems and provides services that make our lives better. People are elected to deliver on this promise of good government; impartially and with integrity. That is done largely via public employees. I salute all public employees; whether a teacher, a police officer, or a janitor. My nearly 30 years of experience in human resources and employment law will be an asset to the township in managing employees. On the board, I will work to ensure employees receive training on an ongoing basis. I emphatically believe that includes implicit bias training. I have gone through such training. I have conducted it for my clients. When implicit bias training is done correctly, it improves performance and compliance while also reducing legal risk.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
Why should voters select you over your primary opponent? Please be specific in drawing your comparison.
I am an independent voice with the experience necessary to run the clerk’s office and influence the board of trustees. I am an accomplished and highly recognized labor and employment partner in a global law firm. I am accustomed to leading and influencing people, advocating and mediating critical disputes, interpreting/applying the law, designing business processes, managing massive projects, and providing excellent client services. I believe in community service and have dedicated substantial time to volunteer inside and outside of our community. My volunteer experiences include: trustee and president of the Bloomfield Hills School Board; secretary to the board of the Friends of the EL Johnson Nature Center; Michigan Chamber of Commerce, HR & Benefits Committee member; and the BHHS Forensics Team and Michigan Forensics Association. When on the school board, I was part of decisions that include preparation /adoption of a strategic plan, tightening of financial controls, restructuring facilities, hiring a new superintendent, and preserving/ enhancing the EL Johnson Nature Center and the Bowers School Farm. I feel blessed to have been able to contribute to our community in these ways. I would feel blessed and honored if you elect me to be Bloomfield Township Clerk. For information: BrookforBloomfield.com or call 248-408-9322.
Smyly graduated from University of Michigan with a degree in psychology and Grand Valley University Police Academy. He is a Bloomfield Township police officer and realtor.
I’ve had the distinct honor of protecting and serving the residents (my neighbors) of Bloomfield Township as a police officer for the last 12.5 years. The role of clerk, similarly, is largely non-partisan with a focus on providing excellent customer service and treating every resident respectfully. The clerk’s office provides a host of support services across a broad spectrum including, but not limited to, running elections, voter registration, passport and notary services, and handling FOIA requests. The clerk position, therefore, requires personal integrity, the ability to multitask effectively, the willingness to listen and work diplomatically with others who may hold opposing views, while always conducting oneself professionally. Having a lengthy, proven track record of serving the public well is extremely helpful and reassuring. Additionally, the Clerk maintains the minutes and also casts one of the seven votes at Bloomfield Township board meetings along with the supervisor, treasurer, and four trustees.
No Reason Absentee Voting was approved in 2018. Michigan voters can now vote absentee without providing a reason for their request on election day. Moreover, voters can request to be placed on a permanent absent voter list to be mailed an application for absentee voting for every future election. Bloomfield Township, under the steady leadership of retiring Clerk Jan Roncelli, has complied with and made residents aware of the new changes, with approximately 10,000 residents asking to be put on the no reason absentee list. This election cycle, however, is quite different with the concern about COVID-19. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson decided to send out an absentee ballot application to every one of the 7.7 million people on the Michigan voter rolls. This action has caused significant controversy and raised concerns about the possibility and potential for voter fraud.
PROPOSED ELECTION LEGISLATION
The electorate expects quick and accurate results the night of an election. SB 757 is the most pertinent piece of possible legislation to facilitate that goal in this new era of increased absentee voting. SB 757 would allow election workers to conduct absent voter ballot pre-processing activities beginning at 9 AM the day before the election, consisting of opening absentee return envelopes while keeping the actual ballot itself in the secrecy envelope. Being able to open the thousands of return envelopes one day ahead of time would drastically increase the ability to process the thousands of absentee ballots in a timely manner. I support this bill as it seeks to streamline the reporting process while maintaining election integrity. Second, many residents are concerned about potential voter fraud with the incredible volume of absentee ballots expected to be received in the November general election. SB 977 would make it a felony to either knowingly submit an absent voter ballot application using someone else’s information, or with the intent to obtain multiple absent voter ballots for a single person. I also support this bill. As a society, we must dissuade dishonest individuals who threaten our sacred electoral process in the strongest possible terms.
I believe government at every level is employed by and works on behalf of the citizenry, not the other way around. To that end, I strongly support the individual citizen’s right to be informed of most government action with the exception of high-level security or legal issues which must be kept classified. I believe it is in the best interest of government to have this view as well, since transparency is essential to citizens’ ongoing trust in governmental institutions, while holding them accountable for improper actions or potential overreach. Simply put, darkness does not exist in the constant presence of light. With that said, however, I do not support abuse of the FOIA process where individuals or political groups may attempt to create havoc with a constant stream of vindictive FOIA requests done simply to slow down or hinder a government entity.
Bloomfield Township passed its initial master plan in 2007, the same year I began my career with the police department. I found it essential to familiarize myself with the master plan over a decade ago, while more recently studying the updated 2018 addendum which addresses the rezoning and redevelopment of the large parcel of land at Squirrel and South Boulevard. As a realtor and homeowner association president, it’s essential I understand the zoning ordinances and be able to answer many questions that come from both clients and other residents. One thing I greatly appreciate about Bloomfield Township is its leadership has historically adopted ordinances which protect and support individual property rights of residents, as well as safeguarding the peaceful enjoyment of the community. I believe it’s important to maintain this approach in the future.
I worked the night shift as a Bloomfield Township police officer for almost 10 years. During that time, I often enjoyed the assignment of providing a police presence during township board meetings on Monday nights, which provided me with the unique opportunity to observe our local government in action. While there are occasional disagreements among government officials and residents, and sometimes among board members themselves, I do not believe the answer is to jettison decades of established precedent and a proven government structure which has worked well in creating the wonderful community my family, friends, neighbors, and I enjoy today. I am not against innovation or changing with the times when needed but history has shown Bloomfield Township is consistently ranked as one of the best municipalities in the state. Bloomfield Township is not broken, and I don’t see the need to overhaul it.
REUNIFYING THE COMMUNITY
This focuses on an issue I believe Bloomfield Township residents care deeply about. I know I do. While disagreements will occur, as is the nature of our democracy, there is simply no reason to disrespect another individual in any venue, whether publicly or online. Robust discourse and the free exchange of ideas can be accomplished without personal attacks. This is the exact reason I’ve made the phrase “Serving Every Resident with Excellence and Respect” a central focus of my campaign and why it's listed on every piece of literature I’ve produced. I will always listen and show respect to every individual, even those I may disagree with. As a long time Bloomfield Township resident and police officer, I have always been dedicated to helping my fellow citizens regardless of political party or individual differences. My outlook as clerk will be a simple continuation of what I already believe and practice in my daily life.
RACISM AS HEALTH CRISIS
I disagree with Governor Whitmer. COVID-19 is a public health crisis. Racism is a condition of the heart. The word racism, however, is thrown around so often in the wrong context it often loses its true meaning. Racism is the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities, and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. That is not at all what I experience among my fellow residents, or alongside the employees I work with in Bloomfield Township. Implicit bias, however, is another idea entirely. Certain researchers have suggested every person has both positive and negative attitudes or stereotypes which affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an involuntary, unconscious manner. To this end, the Bloomfield Township Police Department already mandates ongoing, regular training on implicit bias which I most recently attended this summer. Understanding the concept of implicit bias can be viewed as educational and positive, even if an individual may disagree with it's merits. Training can be done to make Bloomfield Township employees aware of this new field of research, but it must be done tactfully, acknowledging no group of individuals is more “guilty” of implicit bias than any other.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
I have an unmatched history of public service and dedication to Bloomfield Township and its residents. Simply put, public service is in my DNA. While being a police officer over the last 12.5 years, I have been recognized for two lifesaving awards, multiple MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) awards, have trained new officers, and participated in our empowering self defense classes for women. As a homeowner association president, I provide leadership and help serve over 350 homeowners in Hickory Heights. I am competent, personable, detailed oriented, committed to customer service, and able to multitask while never sacrificing excellence. I have come to love this community as both a resident and employee, and I look forward to serving in an even greater capacity as Bloomfield Township Clerk. You can see a short video, and learn more about me, my platform and vision for Bloomfield Township at ElectTomSmyly.com.