By ELENA DURNBAUGH
Upheaval continues in Macomb Township following last month’s resignation of planning director Patrick Meagher and the letter he wrote criticizing a “conquer and control atmosphere” in the township that sparked debate over the combined position of Thomas Esordi as human resources director and legal counsel.
Meggan Young, elections coordinator for Macomb Township, addressed the Board of Trustees at the May 8 meeting in order to call attention to the circumstances surrounding an investigation into her employment opened by Esordi that she said were unfair. In an interview with the Gazette, she shared her experience and explained why she chose to speak out.
The decision to address the board was not easy for Young. She said she doesn’t like conflict and prefers to work behind the scenes. Her job as elections coordinator typically keeps her out of the spotlight. Right now, she’s helping prepare the township for the 2020 elections and make sure the Clerk’s Office is ready to move forward with new technology and implement the new ways residents are able to vote.
“I was afraid of what would happen after,” Young said of her decision to address the board earlier this month. “What would happen when I came into work the next day? And I was scared. I was scared out of my mind.”
Young always wanted to work in local government. She has both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in public administration from Oakland University.
“Not many young people go into it,” Young said. “My dad’s a vet, and I couldn’t really go into the military, so I was just looking for some way to give back to the community.”
Before entering grad school, Young held a corporate position at General Motors. The hours were long and didn’t give her the time to go back to school, so she quit to pursue her education. During grad school, she worked for the clerk’s department in Oakland Township. She completed her master’s in 2017 and got a job with Oakland County government, which, as she approached graduation and the start of her student loan payments, was a better fit. She returned to a corporate job with Fiat Chrysler, but still wanted a job in local government. Eventually, she found the elections coordinator opening in Macomb Township.
“At first, I was very apprehensive,” Young said about applying for the job. “I had seen them in the news. I wasn’t quite sure. I knew that they were moving forward with change, so when I saw it reposted, I was like, OK, I’m just going to do it, and we’ll see what happens.”
Young was hired by the township in September 2018. She said the interview process was straightforward, and she didn’t have any bad feelings about it. She was interviewed by a panel, which she remembers including the clerk, a human resources representative who was not Esordi, the elections supervisor, the treasurer, and the supervisor. They asked her questions about the election process, systems, and her education.
“I felt like the interview went well,” she said. “They all seemed nice.”
As she settled into her new job, Young said everything seemed to be fine.
“Everything was very smooth,” she said. “I never had any problems with anybody. I didn’t know there was anything going on with me.”
In February 2019, Young learned that all was not as well as it seemed. The township had subpoenaed her record from a previous employer. She had a review meeting with Esordi, and Young said he opened an investigation because he thought she lied about being fired from a previous job. Young said that she was not fired from the position, but at the time there was pending litigation over an unlawful termination complaint. Esordi saw that as conflicting information.
Young did not wish to share any further details about the previous job or the circumstances she left under because of the litigation.
According to Young, Esordi asked her to provide documents and correspondence from her attorney as part of his investigation. She cooperated, but Esordi was no satisfied. Young said it was not clear to her what Esordi wanted because he stated many times that there was no problem with her job performance.
“My attorney did reach out to Mr. Esordi, and she gave him the information he needed, and that turned out not to be enough for him,” she said. “Anything he was provided with, it was always something else. ‘Well, OK, I have that, now give me this. And now I need this. And now I need this.’ And it just kept going on.”
Young said that Township Clerk Kristi Pozzi asked Esordi to close the case, but the township human resources director and legal counsel continued with his investigation.
At the Board of Trustees meeting on May 22, Pozzi spoke about the investigation. She said that, as department head, she was satisfied with the information Young provided, but Esordi seemed to be looking for a reason to discharge Young.
“To me, the HR director already had his mind made up as to where this investigation was going before we even conducted it. That concerns me,” Pozzi said. “Investigative meetings happen all the time on employees, and they’re conducted by the department head, and they’re conducted by the HR director. The HR director should be able to ask the questions, and so should the department head, but, in this case scenario, that wasn’t an option.”
Pozzi also said that the township spent close to $2,000 to bring in outside legal counsel to conduct the investigative meeting, according to an invoice voted on at the May 22 board meeting.
Young said that Pozzi fought for her and that she was grateful for the clerk acting on her behalf.
“I had no idea what was going on behind closed doors, and I couldn’t advocate for myself,” Young said. “I don’t think I’d still be here if she didn’t stand up for me.”
Esordi did not represent the facts of his investigation accurately, Young said. After hearing from Young’s attorney that she had not been terminated from her previous job, Young said that Esordi sent an email to the clerk and copied the supervisor in to inform them that her attorney advised him that she had been terminated by her previous employer.
“It was just completely backwards from what he was advised in an email and on the phone,” Young said.
Further complicating the matter, Young said that it was unclear to her when Esordi was acting as the human resource director and when he was acting as the township’s legal counsel. She said that the meetings on her employment were held in closed session because Esordi deemed them legal opinion.
“That made the whole process even more confusing because if you’re addressing the board about an employment issue in closed session, what are you operating as? The HR director or the attorney?” Young said. “The HR director, I mean, is our attorney that opened my investigation, so, you know, I leaned on my clerk for support.”
According to Young, Esordi treated the clerk poorly, and Young felt like he was targeting the department.
“He treats our clerk terribly. he really does,” Young said. “I’ve seen him go at the clerk. I don’t think that anybody should ever be treated like that under any circumstances. I understand that people get frustrated, and things don’t go very well sometimes, but nobody should ever have to be yelled at, or just, be that visibly upset.”
Others have complained of a poor work environment in the township. At the May 8 board meeting, 20 township managers signed a petition supporting the content of Meagher’s resignation letter. According to Denis Martin, a union representative for AFSCME Local 1917, one employee who directly reports to Esordi filed a grievance for a “hostile work environment.”
Esordi declined to comment on allegations of a hostile work environment following the May 22 board meeting and told the Gazette he didn’t feel employee matters belonged in a newspaper.
Esordi is a Macomb Township employee who was appointed by elected officials to serve as the HR director and legal counsel for the township.
Young’s decision to address the board was a last resort for her.
“It was like my last ditch effort, where I was like, OK, if they don’t know all the facts, how are they going to make a decision that is based on the facts instead of legal opinion?”
Trustee Tim Bussineau said that he admired Young’s courage to speak at the meeting. He said that he felt many employees saw it as their only option.
“I feel that the employees feel that is their only route right now,” Bussineau said. “That’s not the ideal situation. I think in an ideal situation it would be taken care of through solid HR practice… They don’t believe that on a daily basis those HR practices are creating a culture where they feel they have anywhere else to go.”
Young said that the experience was very stressful for her, and it often made her doubt if she wanted to continue in local government. She also worries about the future if nothing changes.
“I don’t know if it’s going to affect anything in the future, whether I’m up for a promotion, if I ever need any accommodation,” Young said. “I worry about that, especially if the board stays the same. If he’s kept on in both roles, I think that I probably would have trouble moving forward in my career.”
Young said that she’s not the only one who is concerned.
“The morale in the office is not great,” she said. “I know that for some people it’s difficult to come into work, and they’re not quite sure what they’re going to be faced with that day.”
By speaking about her experience, Young said that she hoped other people would be encouraged to come forward.
“I think that people are kind of afraid to come forward,” she said. “I really feel like if we keep this conversation going that maybe it will create change… If it keeps coming up, I think that there might be a chance for change.”
Bussineau said that he recognized the need for change in the township.
“We’re in uncharted territory, but I think it’s positive territory for moving our township forward,” he said. “I think everybody understands that changes need to be made. Change isn’t always easy. Some people say it’s slow, but in my opinion, change in our township needs to come much quicker than later.”
Young said she wasn’t sure what the solution was, but she thought that more open dialogue between the township board and employees would help.
“I really think that the board and the supervisor could help resolve some issues…I think that if they listen to their employees and communicate with their employees, a lot of things would get better,” she said. “I know we can get there. I just don’t know how yet.”