Wednesday, April 23rd 2014

Township board denies trustee’s request for agenda item addition

Written by Amy Mayhew   
Tuesday, April 24 2012

Janet Leslie reads the email i...

HOLLY TOWNSHIP, Michigan – Silence fell over the Holly Township meeting chambers last week as board members offered no support on adding Trustee Janet Leslie’s item to the agenda.

Leslie repeated her request from the previous meeting, asking that the topic of 1031 S. Holly Rd. – that is, the matter of the ongoing litigation between township residents Timm and Maria Smith and the township – be added to the April 18 agenda.

Over the last several months, the issue has received great attention after the township claimed ownership of 10-acres of the Smiths' 20-acre parcel of land on S. Holly Road.  While the Smiths defaulted on it in 2008, they maintain that the mortgage was fraudulent, and that no legal land split ever occurred on the property under the Michigan Land Division Act.

The case is still lodged in the Michigan Court of Appeals, but Oakland County 52-2 Circuit Court Judge Kelly Kostin made a ruling on Feb. 21, ordering the Smiths’ eviction less than 24-hours later. Oakland County Commissioner Bob Hoffman then became involved in the matter, asking Holly Township Supervisor Jesse Lambert to stall the Smiths’ eviction until the matter could be negotiated. Lambert held the eviction off for a few days, but negotiations never materialized, and the Smiths were evicted on Feb. 27.

Bob Hoffman speaks during publ...

Left with many questions on the issue, Hoffman filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Holly Township on March 7.

Approximately a week later, Hoffman received the requested FOIA information and shared it with Leslie.

During the March 21 Holly Township Board of Trustees meeting, Leslie asked that the matter of 1031 S. Holly Rd. be added to the agenda. Fellow board members denied her request, prompting Hoffman to make the same request during public comment. He was also denied.

Leslie later used the reports segment of the March 21 meeting to speak to the matter, bringing to light several emails written by Code Enforcement Officer Roger Welsh to Lambert and township officials Clerk Karen Winchester and Treasurer Mark Freeman. Among the email correspondences, Welsh discussed the necessary steps in bringing the township’s “dream” of making the Smiths’ 10-acre parcel into a park-river access point – something which Leslie said she had absolutely no knowledge.

While Leslie accused Lambert, Winchester, Freeman and Welsh of corruption and collusion, nobody formally responded to her accusations during the meeting. Winchester was not present at the meeting.

Leslie’s April 18 report

Following Leslie’s second request for the matter to be added to the agenda on April 18 and the board refusal to do so, Leslie used the report segment of the meeting to make her thoughts known.

“I think that I need to explain to the board why I sought to add the property at 1031 S. Holly Rd. to the agenda,” she began. “There were a number of people who had questions last month and felt that their questions were not answered, so being a representative of Holly Township residents, I made the request on their behalf.”

Leslie reminded Lambert that on March 22 – a day after the meeting in which she accused board members of corruption and collusion, he invited her to meet with himself and Welsh to discuss the matter.

“I felt that it was not appropriate to take that discussion into private,” Leslie said. “And you, in fact, suggested that there were elements of that issue about which I was confused,” she added. “If I’m confused, it’s very possible that many of our residents are confused, and I think this is the place to have that discussion.”

In addition to asking that the matter be added to the agenda during the meeting, Leslie said she made an earlier request to that effect via email. “I think that there is a misunderstanding about what it is I want to discuss,” she said. “I do not intend to discuss the lawsuit or the appeal that is currently underway – what I’m concerned about is what happened prior to us receiving the property.”

Leslie credited Hoffman’s FOIA request with gaining additional insight into the matter. “It’s because of Mr. Hoffman’s FOIA request that I realized there was a back story to this issue that I did not know,” she said. “The first time I recall hearing about this property was during an executive session of this board in which Mr. Freeman brought it to our attention that we own 10-acres of a 20-acre parcel that had never been properly split.”

The board, Leslie said, began making legal decisions on a piece of property it believed that it already owned.

“So my question is what led to us obtaining this, and did we know when we accepted the Quit Claim Deed that it was only 10-acres of a 20-acre parcel that had never been legally split?” she asked. “If any of us on the board knew that, that was an incredible risk to take to accept the deed to that 10-acres.”

With the township having spent approximately $27,000 in legal fees associated with the lawsuit already, Leslie said she didn’t recall approving the acceptance of the deed. “If we did, I would like to know what description we had to base our decision on that didn’t make it clear to us that it was only 10-acres of a 20-acre parcel that had never been split.”

Leslie said she believes if the information had been made available to board members, the matter would have been further discussed before accepting the deed.

“If it didn’t come before the board, then it must have been accepted administratively, and if so, I would like to know who and how they accepted that, and how they determined that this was an appropriate risk for the township to take,” she said.

Leslie then turned her attention to Welsh’s email concerning the township’s “dream” of turning the property into a park-river access point. “The reason why I take exception to that – regardless of when this ‘dream’ came to be, is that number one, I don’t think acquiring park land was on our Master Plan,” she said. Additionally, Leslie said she had never seen a resident come before the board asking for it to acquire more park land, nor had she ever seen a member of the park commission make a similar request.

“It certainly isn’t in the job description of the code enforcer to seek out park land, so I’m wondering why this came to be, and how it came to be without the consent of the residents,” she said. “These are my questions that I have and this is why I wanted to see this on the agenda – not for the purposes of discussing the lawsuit.”

Residents want answers
Seven of the 14 Holly Township residents in attendance at the April 18 meeting chose to speak during one or both of the public comment segments of the meeting, including Holly Township Park Commissioner Joe Hutchins.

Joe Hutchins

“The only time I usually come to meetings is when it’s been advertised that it’s better than a circus,” Hutchins said. “Unfortunately, I see that Wayne County doesn’t have the corner on the market of bad politics – the only thing that is worse than no government is bad government.”

Hutchins reminded board members of their duties in upholding the Constitution of the State of Michigan. “When it comes to a circuit court injunction or anything else, we just can’t throw it to the wind,” he said. “If all the facts are brought out, you have to respond to the facts, not innuendoes or opinions.”

In addition to Timm and Maria Smith both taking the opportunity to address the board during public comment, so too, did Holly Councilwoman Jackie Campbell, Holly residents Hollie Spear and Larry Lilly, and Hoffman.

“Is it the board’s position that it doesn’t have to comply with the Land Division Act?” Hoffman asked.

“That’s simple,” Lambert replied. “The board must comply with the Land Division Act because it’s part of the law.”

“Thank you,” Hoffman said. “I would like that to appear on the record.”

The next Holly Township Board of Trustees meeting is slated for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 in the Holly Township Board of Trustees meeting chambers, 102 Civic Dr., Holly. The meeting is open to the public.


#1 Holly 2012-04-24 11:53
Wow a board member can't even add an item to the agenda? Sounds like big brother is holding a big stick.
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#2 localyokel 2012-04-24 12:12
Nice follow up on this ongoing drama. I hope all those Township residents who are able to vote in November are keeping this whole situation in mind. It is a travesty what is going on behind closed doors and it is even worse, that in a public forum like a monthly Board meeting, certain members of the Board will not allow one of their own the courtesy of adding an agenda item. It must be very uncomfortable to live in their skin right about now, but snakes tend to shed their skin.

Just like Mr. Hutchins said "The only thing that is worse than no government is bad government". Seems the majority of the Township Board is taking that expression to heart.
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#3 Jesse Lambert 2012-04-25 11:03
The Township Attorneys have advised all Township Officials not to discuss any part of the 1031 S.Holly case in public.

The 1031 S.Holly case is with the court system. It is very disrespectful to the judicial system when one attempts to re-try a current case in the court of public opinion.

I also expect that if criminal terms are used in accusing fellow board members of wrongdoing, criminal charges should logically follow.
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#4 localyokel 2012-04-25 11:56
It seems pretty disrespectful to the people of the township to have gotten involved in this matter to begin with, wouldnt you say?

If the Township Attorneys have advised the Board of this, why did the Board not make the public aware of this decree in the meeting? At least that might answer some of the questions as to why you would not allow agenda items.

No matter how you present this, it still reeks of "bad government".
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#5 Janet Leslie 2012-04-26 13:09
As quoted above, my reason for wanting to discuss the property at 1031 S. Holly Road was to discuss the statements contained in information provided to Commissioner Hoffman in response to his FOIA request. After over 3 hours of discussion between the township clerk and the township attorney concerning what information could be provided to the commissioner without impacting the legal case with the Smiths, I am sure that the statements contained in that information are safe to discuss in public. They have, in fact, been made public. I believe I was quite specific about my concerns at the board meeting in March, and in several e-mails to the supervisor between March 23 and April 18, in which I asked repeatedly for the topic to be added to the April agenda.
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#6 WWW 2012-04-27 18:26
Why don't we give this a rest and wait the outcome of the court. The Smith's had a chance to stay there when they went to court but they refused the offer made by the judge. If the township would have ignored them and let them stay there and one of them got seriously hurt or if teir place had burned and someone was hurt the township may have been libel especially if the township does own the property. Let's await the outcome of the appellate court. W W Walters
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#7 Janet Leslie 2012-05-01 15:18
WWW, that makes sense regarding the Smiths. But the issue is how the township became involved with this property in the first place, and whether our involvement was in the best interest of the township residents. These questions are asked, not in advocacy of the Smiths, but in advocacy of all 12,000 township residents.
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#8 Ryan Bladzik 2012-05-01 17:18
The township received the Quit Claim deed in 2009, it has been in litigation since then, and the District Court ruled in September 2011. The entire saga began nearly 10 years ago, long before most of the current board members were elected.

Interesting how the question of whether the government was acting appropriately never came up between 2009 and 2011--only in early 2012, right when people are starting to pay more attention to the upcoming elections.
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#9 Janet Leslie 2012-05-01 18:22
That is indeed interesting, Ryan. Why did the topic of this property, which was not legally split, not come before the full board before the code enforcer informed the bank that owned it that the treasurer was interested in obtaining this land-locked portion of a parcel on behalf of Holly Township? That communication was made in September 2009, and the property was deeded to the township in November 2009. I don't believe the full board had the opportunity to weigh in on whether we thought we ought to accept a portion of a property. Nearly $30,000 later, this "free" property has caused quite an expense for the township. This early communication with the bank came to my attention only after Commissioner Hoffman's recent FOIA request.
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