Walsh is a business consultant who received a kinesiology degree from University of Michigan. She is completing her first term as a trustee in Bloomfield Township. She also serves on the township's zoning board of appeals and was an alternate on the Design Review Board.
As one of three full-time elected positions in the township offices, along with the clerk and the treasurer, the supervisor is essentially the CEO of the township. What are the duties of the township supervisor? What skills and experience in Bloomfield Township do you possess to assure residents that you would be the best CEO they could hire to run the township?
I have spent 20-plus years working for global corporations and honing my skills in strategic planning, organizational management, process and budget efficiencies, procurement, training and workforce development, and management. As a business consultant, I help businesses redefine or reinvent themselves to improve and succeed in a changing business environment. My vast business experiences developed an arsenal of innovative business ideas that can bring the township business practices out of the 1980s and into the year 2020. Streamlining processes, adjusting the way we approach our finances, changing the structure of government, could lead to savings that would then be passed on through increased services. In my four years with Bloomfield, I have sat on the board of trustees, zoning board of appeals and Preservation Bloomfield. As your supervisor, I will provide leadership you can trust. Bloomfield will thrive again once we focus on transparency, responsibility, and inclusion to our community.
This past year, a township trustee has 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?
When supervisor Savoie and treasurer Kepes rallied that the treasurer position be reduced to part-time in 2015, it opened the conversation of updating the township structure. In addition to making the treasurer part-time, I agree with making the supervisor role part-time as well. The current financial issues we face with OPEB debt being ignored for decades, asking for a new SAD tax before making a single budget adjustment, operating without a master plan, curbing the voice of the community in public meetings, withholding information from some trustees, and locking in long-term contracts with raises and generous benefits amidst the financial uncertainty of a pandemic, may have been avoided if the township had been run by a superintendent with a masters degree in public administration that reports to the entire board. By changing the treasurer and supervisor to part-time positions, we would have the funding available for a superintendent.
There has been a tremendous amount of debate the last several years over the state of Bloomfield Township's finances, and now in light of the COVID-19 crisis, there is concern once again that there will be even greater budget concerns. Moving forward, how would you provide the services residents expect from Bloomfield Township while dealing with necessary financial decisions and budgetary concerns?
Doing a full financial audit to find areas to reduce expenses, improve efficiencies, and planning ahead with a master plan, will help end the reactionary spending that currently occurs. I asked that we implement shared sacrifices and budget cuts before asking for new taxes, like the SAD in August of 2019. Instead, the majority voting bloc spent about $250,000 on Plante Moran, resident survey, and special election to realize my suggestion was correct. That wasted money would have been enough to save the animal shelter, hazardous waste, shredding, and open house. More recently, we spent $117,000 for an employment compensation and staffing study. That money was wasted since the administration rushed through longer six-year contracts with higher raises and lucrative benefits during financial uncertainty of the pandemic and before the study was received. Ending waste and choosing fiscal responsibility will leave us more money to provide services to citizens.
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 am on the zoning board of appeals. We deal directly with zoning ordinances and variance requests. We find balance between the character of the respective neighborhoods and the requests of the homeowners. Unfortunately, there is no current master plan for our community. It expired about six years ago, under the current administration. As a business consultant who focuses on long-term sustainability, it is frustrating that my requests for an updated master plan falls on the deaf ears of the majority voting bloc. A master plan is an asset that protects against short-sighted decisions, such as crowded condo style developments replacing green spaces and larger lot sizes, or financial issues caused by ignoring long-term debts. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” As supervisor, I will create a committee of citizens, community leaders, and employees to update our master plan.
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?
As a citizen I was shocked for years by the fighting on the board. As trustee, I realized it was caused by the antagonistic and autocratic management style of supervisor Savoie and gets worse each year. Information is withheld from trustees and citizens for power plays, the community voice is reduced, budgets are passed without being balanced in hopes a tax or outside force saves it. Recently, the supervisor did not provide trustees the customary four days to review details of contracts to be voted on. Instead, we received contracts moments before the vote. This is a typical power play of the administration. Their overt lack of transparency, inclusion and respect, and the constant pitting of employees against citizens, is a direct cause of the divisiveness on the board and with the community. My transformational management style will provide avenues to rebuild bridges with the board, community, employees, and schools.
SERVICES VERSUS CUTS
Many residents choose Bloomfield Township for its beautiful neighborhoods, excellent schools, good public safety and other strong services. All of these amenities cost money, which taxpayers have consistently been willing to fund, approving millages for public safety, safety paths, senior services, and in recent primaries, $195 million and $200 million bonds for improvements at Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills schools. Why is there then such a strong emphasis to cut taxes and services by a vocal group when obviously a majority of residents, who may not attend meetings or actively speak out on social media, are happy with the township and want services to continue at the level they have been?
Although there are vocal citizens who oppose all taxes, we also saw the silent majority join them on the SAD issue. This showed the lack of confidence citizens have in the current leadership. That majority sentiment was proven again in the supervisor race during the primary election. Our citizens are an intelligent brain trust that saw through the smoke screens of the administration who tried to pass on 100 percent of the OPEB burden to the citizens and disguised it as a public safety issue. Voting no on the SAD was not about cutting services to the citizens; it was about forcing a refocus on fiscal responsibility and holding leaders accountable to standard business practices. When the SAD failed, it forced the administration to renegotiate vendor contracts, investments, and other areas that went unchecked for decades. They were able to quickly find the $4 million needed and all services were maintained without raising taxes. I voted yes on both the March public safety millage and the school bond, but I voted no on the SAD. Much like the silent majority, I am not anti-tax or anti-services, but I am anti-dishonest and poor leadership which caused the SAD fiasco.
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.
Implicit bias and systemic racism are a crisis that has reached a boiling point in this country. Every day we see the unthinkable unfolding on TV, and within the comments and posts on social media that show us the prevalence of racism in our society. I participated in the Solidarity March on June 15th sponsored by Dawn Campbell, a local citizen, and the Bloomfield Township Police Department to support an end to police violence. I was filled with hope as both sides came together to say enough is enough. The next thought was, where do we go from here? Although the gender barrier was finally broken in the fire department a few years ago, we still have not passed the racial divide when hiring within our police, fire and administrative staff at the township. The hiring of mostly white employees is not reflective of the true diversity in our township and shows that there is an implicit bias present within the current hiring process. The supervisor is the HR director, so the bias needs to end there. I will source bias training for all employees, especially those in hiring capacities, to recognize and end the current implicit bias in hiring.
What would you consider the top three issues facing the township and how would you address those issues?
Financial concerns – liabilities, spending and accounting practices are an issue. Our OPEB liability was only funded at four percent, lowest tier in the state. New concerns surround the contracts negotiated before the compensation and staffing study was completed. I would find opportunities for efficiencies and reduction in spending while maintaining services and end pitting employees against citizens. This should be a great place to live and work. No master plan – implementing a master plan would end the knee jerk decisions being made that are taking away from the vision and character of the township. I would implement a committee filled with leadership, employees, and citizens coming together to help. Outdated structure – “That’s the way it's always been done” obstructs improvement. A part-time treasurer and part-time supervisor would allow funds for a superintendent that reports to the entire board. With about 400 employees, we need a human resources department.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
Why should voters select you over your opponent? Please be specific in drawing your comparison.
As a trustee, I see the lack of transparency and outdated business practices that risk the sustainability of Bloomfield. As a public servant, whether it was going public with the OPEB and spending concerns, approving a land swap to save the nature center to the detriment of my property, or bringing citizen perspective to board decisions, I always put the citizens needs first. As supervisor, I will bring successful business acumen and leadership you can trust to make Bloomfield stronger and rebuild the bridges with our schools, our employees, and our community and within the board.
Devine is a Notre Dame University grad with a degree in psychology, a law degree from Detroit College of Law and is in private practice. He was the Bloomfield Township Treasurer from 2000-2016, and an Oakland County Commissioner from 1995-1999.
The supervisor is required to support the Constitution of the United States and the state of Michigan. Free Speech is the most crucial right being smothered by the current administration. MCL 42.10 lists 15 duties of the Township Supervisor, all important but most relevant to the current election: Enforce all laws and township ordinances; prepare and administer the annual budget; and efficient administration of all township departments. As township treasurer, I worked with former supervisor Payne to achieve our AAA bond rating by prudent investments and strategic planning. That rating is vulnerable now due to policies of the current board which is why I pledge to develop a Resident Focused Strategic Plan like the one that lapsed in 2014. As a Certified Public Finance Administrator (CPFA) and a municipal law expert, I am experienced in employing best practices to formulate balanced budgets and long-range financial planning for Bloomfield Township.
I pledge to fully investigate the pros and cons of the concept through the Resident Focused Strategic Planning process with the new board of trustees and the taxpayers as the first order of business. I believe my experience and skills make me the best suited candidate to serve as township supervisor but I would embrace the concept and find the most efficient way to implement it if that is the direction the new board and our residents choose to go.
I do not favor higher taxes. Through the development of a new Resident Focused Strategic Plan, we will prioritize the exemplary services most crucial to maintaining and enhancing our community driven by the needs and desires of the taxpayers. Efficiencies can be explored in that process through the public discussion of the Plante Moran study done last year and the Comprehensive Compensation and Staffing Study that has yet to be completed by the current board although commissioned in January 2020 in the wake of the defeated SAD tax request in August 2019.
I have participated in updating Bloomfield Township’s master plan over the years. It is a different legal instrument than a strategic plan and will have to be integrated into the thought process of the new board of trustees with full involvement of our residents. It is the backbone of our community’s essence in maintaining the beauty and value of our residential properties. We will take our direction from the new Resident Focused Strategic Plan to determine which areas of the plan or which ordinances need to be revised. I will form a new advisory committee comprised of experts in all areas dealing with real estate and residential property rights in the process of developing our new Resident Focused Strategic Plan to assist the updating of the Master Plan.
The last few years of my tenure as treasurer were marked with constant personal attacks upon me generated by the current supervisor because I opposed his policies. Since then, he broadened his personal attacks on any trustee or resident courageous enough to question his policies. He just sued certain residents and a social media platform called Nextdoor to silence dissent. The root of the problem stems from refusal to provide verifiable documentation in a timely manner (if at all) to the board and our residents so that discussions devolve into angry arguments rather than cooperative efforts to solve problems. I pledge to only present agenda items that have been fully researched, documented and shared with our residents and board members well in advance of meetings where action is required. Board meetings will allow for respectful involvement by the trustees, residents and employees without fear of retribution.
SERVICES VERSUS CUTS
We must seek to maintain and enhance our exemplary services for our taxpayers while living within the means provided by fair taxation and reasonable water and sewer rates. In August 2019, voters emphatically rejected the current board’s attempt to exceed the lawful cap on taxes in the proposal for a Special Assessment District (SAD) tax as the way to balance the budget. During my 17 years as township treasurer having earned our AAA bond rating in great part due to the strategic plan developed and implemented from 2009 through 2014, I have the experience to craft balanced budgets, balancing the needs of residents and employees fairly within the tax rate already in place. As a Certified Public Finance Administrator (CPFA) and municipal law expert, I have the background and experience to balance the budget without increasing taxes. See www.DevineBloomfield.com for my 10-point plan to reform our local government with the first point being the creation of a resident focused strategic plan to guide our township’s future.
RACISM AS HEALTH CRISIS
I agree with the last two sentences contained in the Endnote of your Downtown newsmagazine dated August 2020: “Locally, residents are fortunate to have police departments that have brought their operating policies up to date. But it’s time for adoption of laws that mandate improved policing activity for all departments, rather than relying on the proactive regulations to be implemented on a piecemeal basis at the local level.” All departments of Bloomfield Township should continue to adopt and implement best practices to address this issue at the local level for consistency, fairness and compassion in serving and interacting with our residents, businesses and guests in our township while following laws and protocols as they are developed.
I pledge to re-prioritize residents as job number one again. We will re-open Township Hall with a five-day work week and prohibit free luxury cars for elected officials and department heads. I pledge to straighten out the water and sewer department’s poor business practices involving exorbitant and unfair billings to resolve the issues called out by Judge O’Brien in the lawsuit lost by the current administration. The case could have been settled for $2.5 million but is now costing the taxpayers over $12 million in damages, interest and attorney fees. I pledge to provide full financial transparency and encourage respectful public participation in all we do before decisions are made. We will establish free online access to all accounting records in real time to track revenues, expenses, debt and all water, sewer and road projects.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
I have the patience and desire to respectfully listen to all participants in the discussions required to lead the township board and our residents as we navigate the future in these troubled times. My experience and track record of honesty, integrity and success involving the appropriate management of Bloomfield Township sets me apart from my competition. I grew up here and raised my children in Bloomfield Township. We need to work together as a community to ensure a bright future for generations to come.