Posted on 05 December 2013.
By Judy Reed
“I was on the city council for 32 years—19 as mayor and we never had such hidden shenanigans of behind the scenes scheming and plotting as you have displayed with the city logo,” remarked former city councilor John Teusink, as he addressed the Cedar Springs City Council Monday. “It smells of immaturity and incompetence. I’m embarrassed and ashamed by your actions.”
The remarks set the tone of an often emotionally charged Special Meeting of the Cedar Springs City Council on Monday, December 2, that was called to discuss two things—an update on the Community Building Development Team Fund, and complaints against a public officer—namely former Mayor Bob Truesdale. People were lined up from the Council Chamber to the front door. It was standing room only.
Teusink was one of several residents to address the Council during the public forum time. Since residents could only talk about things not on the agenda during the public forum time, several of them told the Council how upset they were at the Council’s decision to adopt a new logo to replace the Red Flannel logo. The Festival will not allow the city to use the logo without payment, and the city has refused to pay for a mark they had used since its inception as the identification of the city. The Council voted last summer to stop using the Red Flannel logo and began the quest for a new one. The new one was introduced and approved at the November City Council meeting.
Molly Nixon said she agreed with Teusink about the city’s “underhanded dealings” and slipping things in at the last minute. Steve McBride, who said he was speaking as a resident and not as a Red Flannel Board member since he had resigned his seat, said that Cedar Springs is the laughingstock of Kent County, and that “we shouldn’t cut off our nose to spite our face.” Mark Laws said his perception of how the city government is being run is like the bully grasshoppers in the movie A Bug’s Life. “It’s despicable. We are little people like the ants. But we all get one vote.”
Shawn Kiphart, owner of Take Two Game Shop, President of the Cedar Springs Chamber of Commerce, told the audience that if they wanted the Red Flannel Logo back that they were at the wrong meeting. “Go to a Red Flannel Board meeting and ask them to give it back,” he said.
After the public forum, the Council heard from the Community Building Development Team that they now had 401C-3 funding status, and could collect their own money toward the project. The vote last month for the city to open a special account and collect those funds was rescinded.
Many people were there to hear the complaint offered about Bob Truesdale and his actions in writing a personal note to Councilmember Patricia Troost to express his disappointment in some of her recent actions on the Council. He also alluded to council members deciding business outside of council chambers and noted that was illegal. (He was alluding to last month’s mayoral nomination and vote on Mark Fankhauser.) He has also complained about the treatment of some of the elderly population in town by certain city staff.
Mayor Mark Fankhauser opened comments on the subject with his disappointment that Truesdale had taken the liberty to discuss council business outside of the chamber. “If not sounded off fellow councilmenbers it becomes one-sided,” he said. He also noted that Truesdale did not offer them the opportunity to address his concerns by bringing them to the Council. “My concern is that by taking these matters public, you have caused further damage,” he said. “The city council makes decisions and we must abide by them. We may dislike them, but to bash city council members and city employees is wrong.”
Troost talked about how Truesdale’s letter had hurt her and her family, and said that she had lost respect for him and that he would have to earn it back. “I shouldn’t have to defend my vote,” she remarked, referencing her approval to go along with the new city logo. “No business has to pay for their logo every year.” She also explained that she decided to back Fankhauser as Mayor because she had been told by someone that Truesdale didn’t believe women should be on the council.
City Councilor Dan Clark often spoke up for Truesdale, who was silent during this time. “I feel badly for Patty,” said Clark. “And I’ve known Bob a long time, and he’s good-hearted and generous. Back in July, he was chastened for speaking his mind. (This was done in closed session.) Some reports I’ve heard said that there was shouting, and we know that because it came through the walls—and that there were vulgarities. People heard it. But no one was criticized for that behavior. In a recent council meeting, a voice was raised to a person (presenting to council). There is a history of passions stepping over the top. Bob has sent a letter of apology to Patty, and I think this should be resolved in private.”
Councilor Ken Benham noted that he took offence at accusations of council members meeting out of chambers. “That’s a serious accusation,” he said. “I know you’re a good man but I’ve lost a great deal of respect for you.”
Clark said that neither was it acceptable for someone to tell Bob even before they voted that he would not be Mayor again. “Either they are a prophet or someone is leaking information,” he said. Several of Clark’s comments elicited rounds of applause from the audience, which caused Fankhauser to call for order.
Councilor Ashley Bremmer said she was shocked and appalled at Truesdale’s letter. “You said she should come back to the right side. That’s telling people how to vote. That was very disheartening, very upsetting.”
Clark agreed they should not tell people how to vote. But he also related that he had heard a story from a former council member who said that another member had yelled in her face and told her how she would vote on a particular issue.
Truesdale finally spoke. “Charlie (Watson) nominated me last year out of spite because he wanted me to know exactly how much power a mayor doesn’t have,” he explained. People have written me because they are not getting answers from city hall. If I have offended people, I’m sorry. I realize it was probably unwise to publish what I did.” He told the audience that the council will address their concerns, and they need to be there (at the meetings) to see how council addresses them.
Truesdale also noted that it was illegal for the council not to explain to him last year when they took him into closed session that he could call it off anytime. “Some of you really pounded on me,” he said, “and I said nothing in my defense.”
He also noted that he has taken some of the complaints he’s received from people to City Manager Thad Taylor, and that “he has decided not to act on them.”
Fankhauser told Truesdale he should then have brought the complaints to Council so they could provide corrective measure. “Unless they are brought, they cannot be heard.” He added that Truesdale had done things that, in his opinion, were not above board, in various forms of media. And while he wasn’t totally convinced of Bob’s apology, the council needed to move on.
“We need to move forward with integrity, honesty, and loyalty in this chamber,” urged Fankhauser. “I’m willing to take the reins to help all council members move forward. But for now, we need to do it here and not out in public. Here we are one body.”
Truesdale nodded. “Well taken,” he said.
Troost said that when she received Bob’s apology email, a wave of relief washed over her. As she explained how she felt about that, she got out of her chair and walked over to Truesdale, who stood up. “I forgive you,” she told him, and shook his hand.
The meeting ended on that high note, and people seemed relieved at the outcome. “At least the council and city hall now knows the people will be watching what they do next,” said one city resident.