Posted on 03 June 2016.
By Judy Reed
The Cedar Springs City Council fired their assessor, hired an interim City Manager, and received the resignation of their City Clerk, all during the course of a special meeting on Thursday evening, May 26.
The Council has been in disagreement with City Assessor Jason Rosenzweig, over six parcels of city-owned property that he says the city should be paying tax on. The Board of Review upheld Rosenzweig’s assessment, and the Council will be appealing it to the state. Michigan property tax appeals can be filed after the March Board of Review and on or before June 30 of the tax year involved.
In Thursday night’s meeting, Rosenzweig spoke to the Council. He told them that the Council has no authority to terminate him because under the City’s charter all employees are placed under the City Manager. He quoted sections from the Charter that say the Council cannot request the employment or dismissal of an employee.
“The Mayor broke the law when he visited me yesterday and asked me to resign,” said Rosenzweig.
He added that he is not a contract employee because he has never received a 1099, and holds office hours. He also noted that under his employment agreement, it states that 30 days notice should be given by either party. He said that he could sue the City for missed wages, and the Council for misconduct in office.
“I am following the law,” he told them. “The state tax commission told me to look closer at the properties. Your own attorney gave me an opinion that I am doing my job,” he said.
Rosenzweig then offered to resign, if the Council agreed to pay his salary for the rest of the year, which he said amounted to about $11,000.
City Council members listened, then went forward with the resolution to fire Rosenzweig. Mayor Jerry Hall said that their City attorney drafted the resolution and felt they had the authority to dismiss him.
The resolution states that the Council believes the actions of Rosenzweig, in placing certain city-owned properties on the tax roll, were not properly analyzed or communicated to Council, and that according to the city’s charter, the assessor serves at the pleasure of the Council. It also said that under due consideration, the City Council had lost confidence and became dissatisfied in his performance as City assessor, and his termination was effective immediately. It directed the City manager to take action to effectuate the resolution.
The Council decided to leave the hiring of a new assessor up to the new City Manager when hired.
The hiring of an interim City Manager was next on the agenda. They introduced Barbara VanDuren, of Wyoming, who had recently retired from the City of Wyoming as Deputy City Manager, and was previously City Manager in Wayland. “I truly believe in local government, and when the Michigan Municipal League asked if I’d like a shot at being the interim City Manager in Cedar Springs, I said yes,” she told the Council. (See article introducing her on page 3).
Longtime City Clerk Linda Christiansen has been acting City Manager since November. She was visibly upset at the development. “This week is the first time I heard about this,” she told the Council. “I feel very disrespected. I feel like 22 years of my life has gone down the toilet. I will be retiring July 1,” she added, and gave them her letter of resignation.
Christansen had previously said she would stay on until a new City Manager was found.
Members of the Council tried to assure her that they were trying to alleviate the pressure of doing two jobs.
“We were dumbstruck,” said Mayor Jerry Hall. He explained that they had said at last month’s meeting that they wanted to get Christiansen some help. “With the work piling up, and elections coming, we thought maybe it was time to take some pressure off so that she has time to train someone before she leaves,” he explained. “It was not our intent to have her resign. It was to help her, not replace her. If the other manager had taken the job, this wouldn’t be happening. We just thought we needed to get someone in to help her.”
The Council voted 6-1 to hire VanDuren, with Councilmember Perry Hopkins being the lone no vote. He said he had too much respect for Christiansen, and later said that if she couldn’t handle both jobs with the election coming, that should be up to her.
In her resignation letter, Christensen said it had been a privilege to serve as City Clerk. She has worked for five City Managers; along side five treasurers/finance officers; three DPW directors, several fire chiefs; and countless employees, police officers, mayors and city council members. “With all we have shared good times and not so good times; but no matter what we were going through at the time, we all pulled together working as a team to make Cedar Springs the best it could be under whatever circumstances we were facing,” she wrote.
The Council set another special meeting date of June 6 to review candidates who have applied for the City Manager job. They will review the candidates in closed session and choose the top ones they wish to interview in a public meeting.