Half of Augusta Township Board of Trustees sues the other half over alleged Open Meetings Act violation
Three Augusta Township board members and a former trustee are suing three other board members and a former treasurer over an alleged Open Meetings Act violation.
Supervisor Pete Hafler, Trustee Mike King and Trustee Dan Lula charge that the way in which former Treasurer Angela Sherbine resigned and the remaining board members appointed Susan Burek as interim treasurer was done deceitfully and violated the OMA.
The plaintiffs are asking Washtenaw County Circuit Court judge Timothy Connors to invalidate the board’s vote to accept Sherbine’s resignation and its vote to appoint Burek. The entire board has been named as a defendant and the township's insurance company is handling the case, though the plaintiffs aren't allowed to speak with the attorney on issues concerning the case.
A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5.
Lula, King and Hafler, brought the suit along with former Trustee and Supervisor Kathy Jackson. They say they were unable to attend the special meeting because of its short notice and it being scheduled on a Friday afternoon prior to Labor Day weekend.
They also charge in the complaint that the notice for the special meeting "deliberately misstated" its purpose, which was said to be for a "Treasurer's staffing report." It did not directly say it had to do with that it had to do with Sherbine's resignation.
King, Lula and Hafler are often at odds with and have had a contentious relationship with the other board members, who include Trustee Bill Tobler, Trustee Brian Shelby and Clerk Kathy Giszczak. Both sides have been engaged in a power struggle for several years.
The special meeting was called on Thursday, Sept. 1 and scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday Sept. 2.
"It comes down to the spirit and intent of the OMA,” King said. “It's there to make for transparent government and to include citizens, the board and the community, and that spirit and intent was violated.”
"A portion of the board conspired to hold a secret meeting. They went by the letter of law, but they chose a meeting time strategically. It’s intentionally exclusionary of half the board.”
Tobler challenged King’s assertion that the scheduling of the special meeting violated the spirit and intent of the OMA.
“There’s a legal requirement that was met, and there’s nothing in the law that talks about the ‘spirit’ of it,” he said. “The board members received the notice, and Mike King and Pete Hafler responded that they weren’t going to attend, and that was a choice they made. Instead of coming to a properly called board meeting they chose not to.”
Giszczak contended board members were given more than adequate notice. She said the OMA requires board members to be notified within 24 hours, and public notice must be posted within 18 hours.
She said those deadlines were met and notice was placed in Hafler’s mailbox at the Township Hall as she said he requested be done for special meetings. An email also was sent out to all board members, Giszczak said.
Sherbine said she resigned because she is moving to Alabama to be with her family.
Shelby, Giszczak, Tobler and Sherbine were present at the meeting, which is enough for a quorum. They voted on Sherbine’s resignation, which was approved unanimously. The remaining three board members voted to approve Burek's appointment.
Giszczak called the lawsuit political.
“After 3.5 years, you do not understand the laws that govern this body with regard to calling a special meeting?’” Giszczak asked.
She said the other board members had “every opportunity” to come to the meeting.
“You can say it isn’t fair but the laws were written how they are,” she said. “If you don’t like the way the law is written, then contact your legislator and have the laws changed. You have to be responsible and come to board meetings when they're called, and if you’re not there then shame on you.”
King said the notice was presented so late in the day Thursday that he couldn’t get work off in time to make it to the meeting.
It’s not the first time there have been questions about OMA violations in appointing a member to the board. When former trustee John McGeehee resigned in 2008, Sherbine had given birth and was on medical leave, giving King, Hafler and Lula the majority vote.
They appointed an ally in Jackson, and Tobler said the public was given no notice and the issue wasn’t on the agenda.
But King said the latest move was part of “systematic manipulation” on the part of his political foes. He said they have been trying to regain control of the board since McGeehee resigned.
“So we’re back at it, and it will never change as long as we have Giszczak and Tobler on the board,” he said.