By ELENA DURNBAUGH
The Macomb Township Board of Trustees meeting was two and a half hours long on June 26, but the issues that were not discussed during the meeting were just as notable as those on the agenda.
Treasurer Karen Goodhue moved to postpone a vote on the highly debated Ethics Ordinance until a later date. In May, the board agreed to vote on the Ethics Ordinance at last Wednesday’s meeting and was scheduled to discuss two ethics ordinance options that night.
At the beginning of the meeting, Goodhue asked to postpone the ethics discussion in what she said was a “mutual agreement with the ethics committee.”
“We are working on some finalizations of that ordinance,” Goodhue said.
During public comment, members of the Ethics Advisory Committee spoke in favor of the delay.
“The wheel is moving forward,” said Committee Chairman Jim Gelios. “I think all involved want the best version possible for our township.”
Committee member Tom Sokol also voiced his support for the delay.
“I’m very confident that this is going to get done in a timely manner,” he said.
Trustee Tim Buissneau said that he had concerns that the ordinance was not being voted on and that members of the Board of Trustees were meeting privately with members of the Ethics Advisory Committee.
“You completely ignored your words and the vote that board took in order to once again delay the ethics vote,” he said to Goodhue. “Now, these secret meetings have led to a delayed vote…What I would like to know is when are we going to vote on an ethics ordinance?”
Last Friday, members of the Ethics Advisory Committee met with Goodhue, Trustee Nancy Nevers, Clerk Kristi Pozzi, and township general counsel and human resources director Thomas Esordi to discuss the proposed ethics ordinance.
According to Gelios, the two-hour meeting was cordial and productive. The committee stressed the need for detailed definitions of ethics violations and an independent review board. Esordi and Board of Trustees members pointed out the need for more detailed procedures for sanctions. Those is attendance agreed a strong ethics ordinance was necessary for the township.
The group decided that Esordi would make the required revisions to the proposed ethics ordinance and put together a draft encompassing everything discussed at the meeting. Then, he would send the draft to the committee for its approval. If committee members found it acceptable, the ordinance would be put on the next Board of Trustees agenda.
At the June 12 meeting, Goodhue made it clear she intended to propose an alternative Code of Ethics for the board to adopt instead of the ethics ordinance drafted by the Ethics Advisory Committee. Following last Friday’s meeting, it seems Goodhue no longer intends to offer an alternative. According to Gelios, Goodhue said the reason she wanted to offer the Code of Ethics was because she felt that the Ethics Ordinance would not be ready for approval, and she wanted to have something in place.
“They know this is needed,” Gelios said. “I think we’re making headway.”
Gelios said he expected to see a new draft of the ethics ordinance sometime next week, and he hoped that the ethics ordinance would be on the board agenda for the July 24 meeting.
“I want to get this put to bed,” he said.
A motion by Bussineau to move a closed session item into open session was also removed from the agenda. Despite initial board approval, the motion was later overturned, and the agenda item was moved back into closed session. The board originally approved moving the item into open session by a roll-call vote of 5-2. Goodhue and Supervisor Janet Dunn voted against the motion. Later in the meeting, Dunn seemed to think that the agenda items regarding the ethics ordinance were put back on the agenda but that the closed-session agenda item had not been changed.
Toward the end of the meeting, Bussineau’s motion led to a confrontation with Esordi.
Bussineau said he wanted to bring the discussion of a written legal opinion regarding an employee request for reimbursement into open session because he didn’t think it met closed-session requirements. Bussineau asked Esordi to provide a legal explanation for why the matter needed to be discussed in closed session.
“Going into closed session is a very narrow window in the state of Michigan,” Bussineau said. “We’ve been found guilty in a court of law about going into closed session improperly.”
Esordi said that Michigan law exempted written legal counsel from being discussed in open session.
“I, as the township attorney, will not discuss a written legal opinion in open session,” he said. “Here’s the point: I discuss with you information subject to the attorney-client privilege to the board in an open session, I am telling you, and I don’t like to give legal opinion out front in an open session, you are going to waive the attorney-client privilege. If that’s this board’s vote, that’s fine. I’m not going to do it.”
Trustee Roger Krzeminski, who earlier voted to approve the agenda, moved to go into closed session. The motion passed 5-2, with Bussineau and Pozzi dissenting.
During public comment, resident Frank Cusumano, who works as an attorney, said that it was within the board’s right to waive attorney-client privilege.
“That’s the right of the client, which is the majority of this board,” he said. “The attorney can’t assert it. The attorney can’t waive it. Only the board can do so.”
Also absent from the agenda was any discussion of bringing in outside legal counsel to investigate the AFSCME grievance filed against Esordi. The board voted to authorize the supervisor to find an attorney for the township in early June.
During public comment, resident Christina Moody asked for an update about bringing in outside legal counsel. She said that she was disappointed to see the issue absent from the agenda and wanted to know when it would be discussed.
“Was there going to be anything on the agenda coming up? Was there going to be any discussion on this further?” she said. “I know light got shed on it. Then it was turned off, and now, we’re sitting here trying to figure out what’s going on.”
Moody did not return to her seat following her comments and instead stood, waiting for an answer. Dunn tried to encourage her to sit down.
“We do not interact with you,” the supervisor said. “This is your opportunity to tell the board what your issue is.”
Moody restated her question but still did not sit down. She remained at the podium for the entire three minutes residents are allowed to speak during public comment.
Finally, Dunn agreed to address Moody’s question during board comments. The supervisor said that she contacted a list of attorney’s supplied by Trustee Kathy Smith.
“Of the four supplied, one declined, and the other I have contacted. This individual has requested information. It was sent to him, and I am awaiting his response,” Dunn said.
No date has been set to further discuss hiring legal counsel, and the issue is not on the agenda for the July 10 meeting.
Following the meeting, Moody spoke to the Gazette about her decision to remain at the podium during public comment.
“It’s not so much a stance,” she said. “It’s more of one person, one voice, can change something, can make a difference… We can’t back down. if we back down, we’re going to still be a part of the mess that keeps happening, and then things aren’t going to change.”
The next Macomb Township Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for July 10 at 7 p.m. The agenda and board packet are online at the Macomb Township website.