HOLLY TOWNSHIP, Michigan – Holly Township residents Timm and Maria Smith had another bone to pick with Holly Township officials Wednesday night as the couple used the public comment segment of the meeting to accuse three members of violating the Open Meetings Act, and Clerk Karin Winchester of allegedly directing a rude hand gesture their way during normal business hours at the Holly Township Offices.
Timm Smith said the alleged Open Meetings Act violation occurred during the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 8 when he and his wife paid a visit to the township offices in order to obtain a copy of the December Holly Township Board of Trustees meeting minutes.
Upon entering the office, Timm said Winchester was not seated at her desk.
“When I walked to the back, I saw (Treasurer) Mark Freeman, you (Supervisor) Dale Smith, and Karin Winchester all in the back part of the room,” Timm said. “Karin Winchester was half in and half out of (Dale Smith’s) office, and I waited politely to get the minutes.”
Winchester informed Timm that the meeting minutes were not yet available before the conversation then turned to the lawsuit in which the Smiths and the township are currently engaged.
“That was neither here nor there because we’ve had many discussions like that,” Timm said. “But Ms. Winchester went around behind her desk and as I left, I asked her if the ballot proposal for the seven trustees had passed,” he added. “She looked at me, smiled, and said, ‘No it hasn’t Mr. Smith,’ and I said ‘Great, then that was an Open Meetings Act violation – that was a quorum I saw back there.’”
Timm said the conversation among Smith, Winchester and Freeman had stopped abruptly upon the officials realizing he was standing in the hallway.
“The other thing that was obvious to me is that something was going on because as soon as I walked in there, the conversation stopped,” he said.
Following her husband’s comments, Maria Smith added another detail about the discussion that day.
“Basically when we were wrapping up our discussion with Karin (Winchester), she gave us the bird – she flipped us the finger,” Maria said.
“No I didn’t,” Winchester said from her seat.
“Yes you did, clearly you did,” Maria said. “And because of that, I want you to step down – I’m also asking for an apology because I believe that you’re taking your position in office to an emotional extreme.”
Calling Winchester’s alleged gesture a violation of her Oath of Office, Maria told Winchester that she is supposed to show respect to all citizens, regardless of whether or not she agrees with them.
“I’ve never called you a name, and I’ve never spoken out of turn,” Maria said. “I expect the same in return every time I have any dealings with you.”
Turning to Dale Smith, Maria continued.
“You weren’t a witness to it because you were in the back office, Mr. Smith, but she gave me the bird,” Maria said. “She flipped my husband and I off, essentially saying, ‘F-you.’ Is this what our re-elected official is supposed to be representing to Holly?”
Maria inquired as to whom she should file a formal complaint both about the alleged Open Meetings Act violation, as well as Winchester’s alleged obscene gesture.
Speaking as a township resident, Holly Councilwoman Jackie Campbell reminded board members that they are to respect and uphold the rights of all citizens. “I have gone to Ms. Winchester on more than one occasion and said, ‘OMA, OMA, five-alarm OMA,’ because there were three (board) members on more than one occasion that were in a quorum at the time,” Campbell said. “And it wasn’t a joke between Ms. Winchester and I – it was a friendly FYI to be careful of what you’re doing.”
Township resident Hollie Spear said he was stunned by the Smiths’ accusations. “If Ms. Winchester really did give the finger, I am totally stunned,” Spear said. “I’m just so taken aback by it – and if you really did do that, you should really do some soul searching and possibly resign.”
Oakland Street resident Tiffany Golden said accusations of OMA violations usually boil down to a “board versus the people who witness it” issue.
“Would it be possible to have recording equipment of some kind in place in the offices that any time there is more than one board member in the office, you just click it on?” she asked. “If nothing else, could you have an audio recording of what’s going on?”
On Thursday, Winchester vehemently denied the allegations, saying the Smiths’ accusations were the result of the desperation they feel over the pending litigation that is currently lodged in the Michigan Court of Appeals.
“The lawsuit should be coming to an end soon,” Winchester said. “It’s just too bad they are resorting to false allegations and personal attacks.”
Dale Smith asked the Smiths to put their complaints in writing for his review. “I’m the board supervisor – not the supervisor of all board members, but I will discuss it with (Winchester) and she can give you a written response,” he said. “If you feel it’s something you need to take to the prosecutor’s office, I’ll give you the phone number or whatever you need, and if there is something I need to do, I’ll do that as well.”