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Tag Archive | "Jan Dewey"

Sand Lake passes “no obstruction” ordinance


Tensions run high on board; trustee resigns

By Judy Reed

Tempers were high and accusations made of improper conduct at the July 16 board meeting of the Village of Sand Lake. The possibilities of violations of the Open Meetings Act and infringement on first amendment rights were also at issue.

And in the wake of everything that went on, one board member, Jan Dewey, turned in her resignation. (See her resignation letter here)

Tensions have been running high for sometime, and have come to a head since the board sent a cease and desist letter to a Nelson Township employee, accusing her of interfering with governmental operations of the Village of Sand Lake. She had been accused of talking to those interviewed for Sand Lake’s clerk position and telling them not to take the job. (She denies that allegation.) The board had taken their lawyer’s advice to send the cease and desist, and voted to have an investigation done. However, at the June 25 meeting, Jan Dewey, of the personnel committee, reported that their lawyer said their case was too weak and there was nothing to investigate. The board decided to go ahead with an ordinance against interference and voted to approve the new language of the ordinance Monday evening, and said it would apply to any intentional interference moving forward. 

Dave Dewey said that there were times when he was president that this ordinance would have been helpful.

Mrs. Dewey told the Post that the personnel committee did not do any type of investigation into the claim against the Nelson Township employee, so did not speak with the clerk candidates to find out if there had been interference.

The Post sent a FOIA request to get the names of those interviewed for the clerk position and was successful in interviewing one of the candidates, who asked not to be named. “I was offered the job and declined it. I made this decision following a phone call with Mr. Norton (the Village President), after which I felt that I would not be able to productively work with Mr. Norton. My decision was entirely based on my phone call with Mr. Norton. I never spoke to, met with, or had any contact with anyone from the Township or their government. In particular, any claims that [the unnamed employee] influenced my decision are completely false. I have never had any contact in any way with [unnamed employee]. I declined the position based on my phone call with Mr. Norton and upon the advice of legal counsel.”

Norton was the target of many of the accusations Monday evening. At one point, Council member Danielle Hardenberg tried to bring up a letter she had received from Norton’s lawyer regarding a statement she made in the previous meeting that “women are afraid of Tom.” Before Hardenburg could say anything about it, Norton quashed it by telling her it was civil and she couldn’t talk about it. She tried to say she had been asked to speak about it in a public meeting but he did not let her speak. 

The letter demanded that she recant her statement in the same way she gave it, which would be a public meeting. Him not letting her speak could be seen as infringement on her first amendment rights. 

During council comments, Gary Wheeler read a litany of complaints, mostly aimed at Norton.

Hardenburg asked how many council members it took to make a quorum. She explained that she met with Dave and Jan Dewey about a problem she had with Norton, and the Deweys contacted the village lawyer, Jeff Sluggett, who gave them options on what Hardenburg could do. Hardenburg decided to have a face to face meeting, so all four met to discuss the problem, which would constitute a quorum. She felt that the business should be brought before the council. Norton said no, because they weren’t conducting business of the Village. She asked to take it into closed session, but he said no, it wasn’t on the agenda. And that they could do it at the next meeting, either in closed or open session, he didn’t care, because he had screen shots of their conversations.

Hardenburg told the Post she felt that it was Village business, because it involved the Village President and affected the way she did her job. 

If it was a quorum, and considered Village business, that meeting would be a violation of the Open Meetings act.

Norton showed the Post the screenshots. He did admit she had been sent something inappropriate by him but that it was accidental and he told her not to open it. She responded, “lol, ok.”

Hardenburg told the Post she responded that way because she didn’t know what to think.

Norton feels he is the target of accusations because he is running for Nelson Township Supervisor. He has sent at least three cease and desist letters to those he says have said untrue things about him.

Trustee Tonia Parkhurst also read a statement during council comments. She said she was taken aback by the negativity she felt at last month’s special meeting and was tired of the undercurrents. She had been excused from the meeting of June 25, but during the deliberations on the government obstruction ordinance, Norton texted her to verify if she was coming. When Parkhurst showed up, Wheeler told Tom he saw him pick up his phone earlier and asked him if he texted her. He said he had. Discussions then ensued on whether that was ethical, to which Norton replied, “Is it ethical to work with the township in order to sit there and stop ordinances and undermine operations of the village?”

Use of a phone when others do not know what you are doing, could be considered a violation. According to Attorney General Bill Schuette’s handbook on the Open Meetings Act, it says on page 9: 

“Use of electronic devices: Moreover, the use of electronic communications for discussions or deliberations, which are not, at a minimum, able to be heard by the public in attendance at an open meeting are contrary to the OMA’s core purpose–the promotion of openness in government.”

Dave Dewey told the council that he and his wife work hard to do the right thing. “To use the council as a platform for personal grievances you all are going to burn the church down. You need to have personal stuff remain outside of the council.”  

 

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