Beliger & Dockett Fail to Kill Land Preservation Committee

By David Gordon

June 27, 2017

Supervisor Marlene Chockley presented a balanced $1.6M General Fund budget to the Board of Trustees on Tuesday evening but ran into a wall of complaints from Trustees Jacki Otto, Janet Chick, Wayne Dockett and Tawn Beliger.  Despite an hour of bickering, the budget was approved “as is”, without any changes.

The Trustees vowed to remove the funding for multiple services and amend the budget at the Board’s July 11 meeting.   Beliger expressed concern that Chockley would somehow ignore the Trustees’ budget cut request, insisting the minutes reflect the desired action.  Dockett later added “I don’t trust the Clerk or the Supervisor”.

“I am dismayed by the lack of trust,” said Chockley at the end of the three-hour meeting.  “I think we are going to take care of our employees…and we’re going to do the right thing for our lands and our community.”

The General Fund budget needed to pass or the township government would have shut down.  The General Fund pays for all township operations such as:

  • Road maintenance and upgrades.
  • The new Township Manager, his/her staff & benefits
  • The Planning Commission
  • Elections
  • The Board of Review
  • The Community Center
  • Legal & professional services and assessing
  • Grounds & maintenance
  • Debt service
  • Street lighting
  • The Clerk, Treasurer and Supervisor and Trustee, staff salaries and benefits.

The most expensive line item in the General Fund budget is for road maintenance at $506,163; about $100k of that is for regular maintenance and the other $400,000 will cover balance of the $1M non-motorized path through downtown and replacing a culvert

The second highest expense is $135,027 for 11 months of the Township Manager, a new position that was created in 2011.   (Click here to view Supervisor Chockley’s Powerpoint budget presentation).  The Board is still in negotiations with a potential hire at between $60-75,000, plus benefits that could run about $15,000 or more.

The Trustees insisted that the Board not include money for any employee raises.  They also called for removing the funding for the Parks & Recreation Committee, the Land Preservation Committee and the “People’s Express” service, which provides transportation for low-income residents.

They argued that each committee must appear before the Board every year to request funding, and therefore these items shouldn’t be included in the budget.  The Trustees had no problem, however, including $135,027 for the “yet-to-be-hired” new township manager, staff and benefits.

“This is a very tight budget,” said Chockley.  “We had to trim back many requests,” she said. 

“This is not how a budget is done, to my way of thinking,” said Treasurer Lenore Zelenock.  She said the time to raise issues was at the previous meeting when the budget was discussed, and later added “I don’t believe it’s a good idea to balance the budget on the employees….these people do a very good job for us.” 

During the final “Call to the Public” at the end of the three-hour meeting, Jim Nelson and David Gordon charged that the manager’s $135,000 budget was the direct cause of the budget cuts.

Chockley has repeatedly volunteered to take on the former manager’s non-statutory duties at a savings to taxpayers of about $50,000, but the Trustees have rejected her offers.  She has been doing the manager’s work, free of charge, for more than six months and the Trustees have refused to pay her.

Dockett argued against giving raises to any township employees or helping People’s Express.  He criticized spending on People’s Express, saying “nobody is giving me $10,000.  I’d like the Board to give me $10,000.” 

Dockett gets paid $2,500/yr for attending meetings and has cost the township an undisclosed amount above that because he refused to be paid by direct deposit or a “pay card”, as do all other Trustees and township employees.  (We have made a FOIA request to learn the extent of legal costs incurred by accommodating Dockett’s “special needs”.)

Dockett also said he hopes the township “will have a new leader” by the time the budget returns to the agenda, referring to a new manager.  The manager’s job description, however, dictates that the manager “follows” rather than “leads” the Board’s directives.

Otto, Chick and Dockett all served on the previous Board (2012-2016) and spent nearly half of the township’s “Rainy Day” savings account during their tenure.  The savings account dropped by $737,000 during 2015-2016 alone, according to Chockley’s budget presentation.    

During their last term, Otto, Chick and Dockett lost $300,000 selling township bonds and another $150,000 in unearned interest.   The decision to take the $450,000 loss was recommended by the previous manager, Howard Fink.

A rupture has taken place since the November campaign when incumbent Trustees Otto and Chick campaigned together on the same ticket with Supervisor Chockley and Clerk Kathy Manley. 

Since December, Otto and Chick have joined with Dockett and Beliger to strip the administration of any authority other than those duties mandated by the State of Michigan.  This schism clearly played out over the fight to hire another manager earlier this year.   

The Trustees spent 40 minutes at the meeting rewriting the labor attorney’s “draft” contract for the new manager.   Most of the changes stripped Chockley of any non-statutory power, giving the “Board” ultimate say.  Labor attorney Stacy Belisle warned that not allowing Chockley even small administrative powers could result in delayed decisions on time-sensitive issues.  Her advice was ignored.

The Board divided 4-3 on the hiring of a manager six months ago, with Chockley, Manley and Treasurer Lenore Zelenock opposing the expense.   The Trustees voted as a block and as a majority, forced the issue. 

The Trustees argue that the manager is actually a cost savings because in 2012, the salaries of the Supervisor, Clerk and Treasurer were reduced from $40,000 to $12,500/yr, a “savings” of $82,500.  However, the last manager cost more than $100,000/yr because he hired an assistant, who is still on the payroll.

Attorney Belisle mentioned a $70,000 salary for the current manager candidate, and $15,000 is included in the budget for the manager’s health coverage.  Salary negotiations have yet to be finalized and the Board hopes to cap the figure at $75,000.

Only 3% of all Michigan townships have a manager, according to the Michigan Townships Association, and prior to 2011, our township never employed one.

So many changes were made that the re-written contract, which also attempts to outline duties, responsibilities, goals and objectives, could not be adopted and will be brought back at the July 11 Board meeting.

The cost for Belisle’s work on the contract was not discussed and our request for that information went unanswered by the Trustees.    We have made a Freedom of Information request for the figures which, according to township sources, runs into the thousands of dollars.  

In a surprise move, Beliger tried to disband the Land Preservation Committee, which was created only six months ago.  She motioned that it be dissolved on July 25th.  Dockett supported the effort, but it failed on a 5-2 vote. 

Beliger was unhappy with the $5,000 in the budget for the Land Preservation Committee.  She claimed to support farmland preservation and parks, but said spending tax dollars would constitute a “redistribution of wealth”, and insisted that private donors should pay for parks and preservation.   

At the conclusion of the three-hour meeting, Beliger recommended everyone read “Behind the Green Mask” by Rosa Koire.   Koire’s book claims, according to reviewers, that the environmental movement is a sinister conspiracy devised by the United Nations to strip Americans of their freedom.

The Land Preservation Committee’s “business plan”, requested by Otto, sought $10,000 in funding to hire a consultant and for community outreach.   Otto didn’t speak to the business plan other than to question the cost, and asked that the Committee come before the Board to plead its case.  Chick added that “$5,000 is a lot of money”.  (Click here to view the Land Preservation Committee business plan


Meeting Documents: