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.
“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.