This Board meeting was hard to watch.  Wayne Dockett was absent, so we lacked the comic relief of watching Wayne poke holes in inflated public personas and half-baked ideas.  Wayne - we hope you're ok.

The pain began with Call to the Public.  A long line of Township residents chided Township Treasurer Kathy Braun about the hurt and offense they felt when they read Braun's fiction-filled editorial (and free campaign ad) in the July issue of the Courant newspaper.  They also addressed the issue of the huge financial losses occured by panic-selling sewer and general fund investments.  Patrick Tetreau asked for a response to his FOIA requests for documentation of the Contracts and evaluations of the Township Manager.   Craig Warburton described Board and PC corner-cutting, asking us to think about what that implied about their behavior when out of the public eye.

The Board responded by not responding.   They talked about how nice Braun was, how well intentioned, how hard she had worked. 

There's no argument about that.  There never was. 

Supervisor Engstrom gave her mouthpiece, Township Manager Fink, a full fifteen minutes for election campaigning on the Board's behalf.  They were the "best people he'd ever worked with."  This was the "best work he'd ever done."  Under the beatitude inducing glow of the new Boardroom's $14,000 worth of lighting fixtures, he attacked this blog.  He said our reporting was "personal."  It "turned his stomach."   The reporting was all "supposition," all "speculation."  He said there was nothing here but scattered "shards of truth."  Later he walked that back, dialing it back to a a less insulting, [we were] "very often wrong."   He bludgeoned with his most indignant bluster.  He capstoned his litany of vague generalizations by calling's observations, "rhetoric," as if everything he said was not.  The Board nodded along.

Attacking for examining Board behavior "personally" is misguided.  Everything about this situation is personal.  Did any Master Plan supporter take the attempt to subvert the Master Plan un-personally?  Does anyone take the transparent lies and self-serving spin published in the Courant un-personally?  Does anyone not watch every facet of a person's personal behavior when they decide whether a person is telling, or selling the truth?  This Board has earned having their behavior examined under a microscope.

It is a bitter irony that when the Biltmore request first arose, we learned from our FOIAs that Trustee Kathy Braun was the Trustee who defended the Master Plan.  Neighbors were heartened to see that.  It shouldn't have been a surprise.  Braun had been a longtime supporter of the Neighbors.  Back in the era of the $28 Million dollar Territorial Bridge nonsense, she had Neighbor campaign signs proudly displayed on her lawn.   She was the first person to register for this website.  I do not believe that Braun really believes everything that she wrote in her Courant editorial.  She wrote and signed it anyway.  That saddens me.  This has taken on the dimension of a soul-destroying personal tragedy.

Supervisor Engstrom topped off the introductory ironies - what amounted to twenty minutes of election campaigning for Boardmembers - by insulting the Citizens who'd dared speak their mind about issues that have become campaign issues.  We're here "to do business," she said.

Later in the evening, the Board was schooled by Township Planner Phil McKenna.

Phil McKenna BOT 2016 07 12 pic1 ahead

Phil McKenna: "You're a little bit ahead of yourselves.  What do you need one for now?"

What was this about?  Items 3 through 6 on the Agenda.  Van Curler.  At this meeting, the Board voted to pay $329,000.00 in cash for the purchase.  Fink's earlier recommendation to borrow had been roundly rejected.  The implications of this were mentioned.  The Board must now abandon its hard-won 85% rainy-day fund balance policy.  The closing on the property has been fast-tracked and is now contingent only on a staked property survey being completed.

Earlier in this process, Trustee Wayne Dockett had recommended a staked survey to make it easier for Boardmembers to visualize what they were getting.  Dockett wasn't at this meeting so no one championed his very reasonable point that Boardmembers actually view the stakes.   But no personal visits are required.  The Board's haste was underlined when Planner Phil McKenna informed the Board that they were trying to hire a commercial broker (Agenda item 6) before they had a plan or even a clue as to what they wanted a broker to do.  Fink blithely opined that he was planning on soliciting "3 or 4" broker proposals, "to develop relationships" for down the road.  He asked McKenna to toss out a few names.  Fink said he was thinking about using the broker who handled the Van Curler property fire-sale today; he named the broker.

McKenna patiently explained that it wasn't that easy.  He explained why brokers didn't want their time wasted.  He explained the costs to brokers of preparing proposals.  $19,000 was one figure mentioned, incurred in a particularly complicated case.  McKenna explained this and more.  For the Board, it was a real world education from a Planner of long and deep experience.

Thank goodness someone who has actual hands-on experience is involved in this process.

 Looking on the bright side, as longtime Township meeting devotee Mary Devlin often commends us to do, it seems that the Township government has heard our complaints about the unreadable financial reports in meeting packets.  The financial reports in tonight's meeting packet have been rotated so you can read them.  They are marginally more legible. 

There has been no explanation of why they've been so barely readable for so long.  In my opinion, there is no credible technical excuse.  This is nothing more than an administration's policy of making it as difficult and miserable as possible to read Township financial reports, in other words, a standard political evasion.  Feigned transparency.  The effect falls most harshly on older eyes, older citizens.  The Board is either paying no attention, doesn't care, or is laughing along with the policy.  Wayne Dockett was the only Board member I've ever heard complain.  The Board "smiled" him off.

I'm guessing that the real reason the reports suddenly became more readable is so that we could read the report listing the cost of Boardroom materials and physical labor.

According to the last page of the financial reports, the Boardroom cost about $52,000.   Let's hope it stays there.  The Board was promised that taxpayers wouldn't have to pony up $60-$80,000 to upgrade the HVAC.  At the July 6th Planning Commission meeting, sweating in his brand new "professional" Boardroom, Fink looked more than a bit dissatisfied with that plan.

Unmentioned and unaccounted for in that $52,000 claim was the time and expense of scheming, fantasizing, planning, replanning, managing, procuring, contracting, administering, and lobbying for the Boardroom since Fink's first sales pitch for a "professional" Boardroom in 2014.

Our Township Board went along with the fiction. 

They can't have it both ways, boasting of their business acumen, while at the same time allowing fantasy to permeate Township cost accounting.

During Board member comments came one of the uglier moments of this meeting.  Township Clerk Westover suggested politicizing the Township's small contribution toward the People's Express (PEX) because the PEX Treasurer, Lenore Zelenock, had spoken out about the Township's spending. 

Earlier in the meeting, Zelenock had presented PEX's financial report and asked that the Township renew it's annual committment.  The PEX accounting showed that the Township's annual committment meant that Township citizens could get a ride to hospitals and doctors in Ann Arbor for $12 instead of $45.  They could catch a ride around Northfield Township for $1 instead of $12.  People's Express can do this because it uses local committments as seed money for matching grants.   In a year the senior and disabled Township Citizen riders save over $40,000.  The Township's cost for that, a flat rate fee per trip, is about $16,000.  The PEX data showed that less than two percent of those trips were rides to work.

 This is not the first time the People's Express contract has run into Township politics.  Fink delayed their previous contract renewal for months, claiming that they had insufficient insurance.  He demanded $5 Million in insurance, a crippling, cost inflating demand which apparently no one in this business carries.  The contract approved by the Board on December 9, 2014 was stalled and stalled again by Fink.  The Board finally overrode Fink's objections at the July-28, 2015 meeting, re-approving the People's Express contract.


Meeting Documents:


7-12-2016 Northfield Township Board of Trustees meeting packet

Individual Packet Items:

Department Reports:

Financial Reports:

People's Express:

Arvin Sango:

Van Curley Property Purchase and Planning:

Planning Commission recommended Ordinance Changes:


Blowing in Seed Corn 2016 05 22 420w 315h

This is a Sutton Road farmer's seed drill being refilled with seed corn in May.  The enormous drill is over 30 feet wide.  In the July, 2016 issue of the Courant, we were informed by Whitmore Lake's leading authority on virtually nothing, Gary Wellings, that farming is defunct in Northfield Township.