By ELENA DURNBAUGH
Macomb Township continues to work toward passing an ethics ordinance for township officials and employees.
Treasurer Karen Goodhue provided an update on the ethics ordinance at the June 12 meeting and informed the Board of Trustees that she, Trustee Nancy Nevers, and Macomb Township Legal Counsel/ Human Resources Director Thomas Esordi were working on an alternative to the ordinance first proposed by the Ethics Advisory Committee in October 2018.
The Ethics Committee was appointed by the Board of Trustees on February 28,2018. Rich Maierle, Tom Sokol, Richard Paul, Robert Montilla, James Gelios, and Stephen Ferrari serve on the committee, with Gelios acting as committee chair. Each member was appointed by a member of the Board of Trustees.
The committee was tasked with researching and developing a possible ethics ordinance for the township. It began its work in March 2018 and had 10 meetings. Members looked at existing ethics ordinances from other communities as well as ethics ordinance guidelines from the state of Michigan, the Michigan Township Association, adn the Michigan Municipal League. The committee also received advice from the Chairman of the Macomb County Ethics Board, Don Amboyer. The ordinance proposed by the committee is very similar to Macomb County’s ethics ordinance, according to Gelios.
Last month, the Board of Trustees voted to set June 26 as the meeting to vote on the proposed ethics ordinance. They set June 12 as the deadline for legal counsel to distribute ethics ordinance enforcement policies and procedures.
At last week’s meeting, Goodhue provided a progress update that focused on civil infractions, which are non-criminal violations of rules, ordinances, or regulations. She said that Esordi recommended the township expand its current ordinances if the ethics ordinance included a penalty for civil infractions.
“This is all information for– to be able to make a decision at the next meeting,” she said.
Goodhue then announced that she would present a second ethics ordinance option for the board to consider at the June 26 meeting.
The proposal is pulled from the Michigan Township Association Code of Ethical Conduct, according to Goodhue.
“It provides even more overseeing than the ordinance does, so the board members will have two options next board meeting to choose from,” she said.
Nevers said that the primary objection to the ethics ordinance proposed by the committee was that it didn’t include anything about municipal or civil infractions, which she felt was important for the township.
“What was put together didn’t quite work for our township,” Nevers said. “We feel this document works more for this particular township.”
Nevers also said Gelios agreed that the document wasn’t quite finished yet.
“It’s almost there,” she said. “We will have a document that works, but it’s an issue whose time has come. I’m sure there will be some people that will groan… but we need to come together and build a consensus.”
Gelios said that before the June 12 meeting, Goodhue provided him with information on civil and municipal infractions that he added to the proposed ethics ordinance. He said the revised version, which is part of next week’s board packet, was sent out to members of the ethics committee for their feedback.
The ethics committee expected to have a revised version of the ordinance, Gelios said, because the committee received little support from the township legal counsel.
Now that the ordinance has added language on civil infractions, Gelios said he would like to see the board wait another two weeks for public review before voting on it.
“If you add or take away one word, it’s another document,” he said. “It’s been a year and a half, another few weeks isn’t going to hurt us.”
Trustee Tim Bussineau expressed surprise and concern that Goodhue and Nevers had been working with the Ethics Advisory Committee independent of the board.
“I thought that we put it into the hands of the committee,” he said. “Not only do I think that we voted on that, and we put it in the hand of a committee.”
Gelios said he didn’t mind talking to board members about the ethics ordinance.
“We need to start mending the last three years of turmoil,” Gelios said.
Bussineau said that he believed that Nevers and Goodhue violated a board resolution passed earlier this year by talking to the ethics committee independent of board action.
“They took it upon themselves, without any board action, to represent the township and reach out to the ethics committee and hold meetings,” he said. “Board action would have had to be brought forward for them to be able to talk to that committee.”
The resolution, brought to the board on March 28 by Goodhue, states that “only the board, not individual members, has the authority to take official action on behalf of the township,” and “the Township wants its employees and citizens to clearly understand that an individual Board member is not authorized to speak on behalf of, or otherwise represent, the Township without express authorization of the Board.”
The resolution allows board members to be contacted for discussion of township business and allows employees to provide support to Board members within the scope of their job.
Goodhue responded to Bussineau’s concerns at last week’s board meeting by saying that board members were allowed to go to department heads for information and that they were allowed to bring anything before the board.
The ethics committee was formed as an advisory board, though, and not a township department.
“This is very important to me,” Goodhue said. “I’ve done a lot of research on it, like I said, because I was here.”
The board packet for next week’s meeting includes Goodhue’s proposed ethics ordinance, which is the Michigan Township Association’s Code of Ethical Conduct and not a document specific to Macomb Township. It has no language concerning civil or municipal infractions and does not set up an independent review board of reporting improper actions.
“The Code of Ethical Conduct is intended to be self-enforcing,” the document says.
Gelios said that he didn’t think it was right for Goodhue to present an entirely separate option to the board that didn’t include the work of the committee.
“Her alteration is nothing more than a cut-and-paste from the MTA handbook,” he said. “That’s upsetting to the committee because it has no teeth in it.”
According to Gelios, Goodhue had concerns about the committee’s document because she felt it was targeting the Board of Trustees, but he said that wasn’t the case.
“It’s not geared toward the trustees, not at all. It could actually help them,” he said. “This isn’t designed to be a witch hunt. It could very well protect them, too.”
Gelios said that it was important for an independent ethics board to be set up by the ordinance. Otherwise, he said it was little more than a promise from the board to “be good,” and “brush their teeth,” which is similar to what already exists in the Macomb Township Principles of Governance.
Both Nevers and Goodhue said that the proposed ethics committee ordinance wouldn’t do anything to stop corruption like the township saw with former Trustee Dino Bucci.
“I don’t think that anything would stop a corruption if somebody wants to be that scurrilous,” Nevers said.
Gelios said he agreed.
“It very well may not,” he said. “It will help the some of the more day-to-day stuff you’re seeing now.”
Bussineau said that he still hoped to vote on the ethics ordinance on June 26.
“If there’s a township that needs an ethics ordinance, it’s us,” he said. “And, combine that with the recent employee presentations at our meeting about why they left the township…We need this ethics ordinance. It’s time for this township to move away from ‘the Macomb Township way’ and give residents what they deserve, and that is clean government.”
The Macomb Township Board of Trustees meets at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 26.
The meeting agenda and board packet can be found on the Macomb Township website.