Saturday, April 19th 2014
 

Holly Township residents accuse officials of OMA violation, rude gesture

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Written by Amy Mayhew   
Thursday, January 17 2013

Timm and Maria Smith

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.

Timm Smith


“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.

Maria Smith


“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?”

Clerk Karin Winchester


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.”

Comments   

 
#1 Mark Freeman 2013-01-17 15:26
Fact Check: I was sitting at my desk working. Ms. Winchester was engaged in a discussion with Mr. Smith in his office. I was not part of their discussion. The discussion stopped when Mr. and Mrs. Smith entered the room because the Township is currently engaged in litigation with them.
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#2 Gary the Foot 2013-01-17 16:28
Can someone define the OMA? I hear it referenced often but don't really know much about it.
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#3 amayhew 2013-01-17 17:18
The Open Meetings Act (OMA) was written in 1976, as was the Freedom of Information Act. These two laws, known as Michigan’s “sunshine laws,” are designed to make government processes and information more open to the public. Both laws were written in the post-Watergate, post-Vietnam war era.

It is important to keep in mind that the OMA applies to governmental bodies, those “empowered by state constitution, statute, charter, ordinance, resolution or rule to exercise…governmental authority.” It does not apply to corporations, non-profits, churches or the like.

The law guarantees several rights of citizens. The public has a right to record meetings, within the bounds of reasonable rules which the public body may write to minimize disruption of the meetings. The public, likewise, has a right to address the public body, also within the bounds of rules written to facilitate orderly meetings and protecting everyone’s right to address the board. An individual can only be removed from a meeting for a breach of the peace committed at that meeting.

Social or chance gatherings, or conferences which are not intended to avoid the OMA, are exempt. These types of gatherings often are treated with suspicion by the press and the public. It is important for public bodies to be careful not to discuss government business during these gatherings. This can be accomplished by paying careful attention to what the OMA says about deliberations and decisions.
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#4 Holly 2013-01-18 09:18
You have got to be kidding me. The clerk flipped you the bird???? And you didn't call her on it then or go talk to the supervisor. Seems like just another desperate move on the side of the Smith's. As far as the OMA you said they stopped talking when you walked in so you have no proof of anything.
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#5 lala 2013-01-18 13:04
It seems to me the Smith's enjoy upset and dissention. I have known all 3 of the officials mentioned and do not beleive they were engaged in anything covert other than a days work within the confines of their offices. Are they supposed to come in and not say a word to each other? This looks like drudging up anything and everything to keep our courts clogged with this drawn-out litigation. Rebels without a cause maybe? Bigger fish to fry....certainly.
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#6 Katy Hughes 2013-01-18 19:04
Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 15.262 defines those meetings which are subject to the OMA as: "'Meeting' means the convening of a public body at which a quorum is present for the purpose of deliberating toward or rendering a decision on a public policy."

Were the three staff members discussing and/or moving toward deciding on public policy when the Smiths arrived at the office? My guess is no...
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#7 Frank Sweeney 2013-01-19 08:49
That seems to be the whole problem here, Katy. Your "guess" is no. Well, if there were more than five members on this board, there would never be an issue, and residents could all stop "guessing" as to what board members are actually talking about behind the scenes. If the supervisor, the treasurer and the clerk even discuss an item that may or may not be on the agenda at the office, they are in violation of the open meeting act, and my "guess" is something like that happens just about every day.
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#8 Katy Hughes 2013-01-19 14:42
To Frank Sweeney:

You may remember that there was a proposal on the ballot in November asking the Holly Township voters if they would like to increase the board from 5 to 7 members. Personally, I voted for this change. I think having a 7-member board is a good idea. But unfortunately, not enough people in the Township agreed to add the extra members and the proposal failed due to lack of support.

At this time, it is a moot point. There's no need to rehash the issue if the Township residents voted and decided NOT to add additional board members. To continue bringing up this issue just doesn't make sense.
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#9 Frank Sweeney 2013-01-19 16:53
I agree, Katy. The wife and I also voted in favor of adding 2 more members. The point may be moot, but as long as there are 5 board members, 3 of whom share the office, questions about open meeting act violations are always going to be asked, I'm afraid.
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#10 Fern 2013-01-19 17:45
I disagree. It is worth rehashing the issue because some of us are just now realizing how big a problem this is! Sometimes it takes a few tries for the voters to get it right, because sometimes it takes a while for us to realize what is really going on.
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#11 Phil 2013-01-19 19:00
The proposal to add two trustees failed twice. How many times do residents have to be asked? One of the reasons voters supported Proposal A in 1994 was because residents were tired of school districts asking over and over and over again for millage increases until the residents broke down and approved it. Is that better? No, it's not.
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#12 TheDuke 2013-01-20 09:43
Whatever happened to the old lesson that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"? Will we really need to be prosecuted for obvious open meeting act violations before we fix the problem? Having a quorum sitting in those offices everyday only adds fuel to the fire of those who suspect that they are discussing township business that should be done during the board meetings. It only takes one goof-up and then get out the check book.
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#13 Sophia 2013-01-20 20:34
I'm confused. Did the Smiths actually hear them discussing their situation or other Holly Twp business or are they just raising cain because they quit talking? They could have been talking about anything....like where they are going on vacation or what to have for lunch, etc It would be the proper thing to do to stop the conversation to service the person that came to the office...not matter who it was. I think the Smiths need to go job hunting and work on getting their life back together.
This whole situation is crazy.
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#14 C. Rankin 2013-01-21 12:34
Firstly, I agree that the Towship should have a 7-member board representing the roughly 6,000 township residents, just as the Village has a 7-member board to represent their roughtly 6,000 residents. That being said, I think it would be difficult to have a case heard against the Board citing OMA violations merely because there were 3 of the members having a conversation while at work, considering that they work in an office together.

From MI.gov:

15.263 (10) This act does not apply to a meeting which is a social or chance gathering or conference not designed to avoid this act.

15.268
A public body may meet in a closed session only for the following purposes:
(d) To consider the purchase or lease of real property up to the time an option to purchase or lease that real property is obtained.

Esperance v Chesterfield Township, 89 Mich App 456 (1979)
Those seeking to have decision of public body invalidated under the Open Meetings Act must allege not only that the public body failed to comply with the Act, but also that such failure impaired rights of the public.

Moore v Fennville Public Schools Board of Education, 223 Mich App 196 (1997)
A public body may arrive at a conclusion as to negotiating strategy at a closed meeting. That conclusion is not a “decision” that the Open Meetings Act requires to be made at an open meeting.
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#15 CC22 2013-01-21 13:01
I agree with Sophia. I think the Smiths just want to cause problems. I have had a great deal of contact with Dale Smith, Mark
Freeman and Karin Winchester. They are always extremely polite and friendly. They take the time to answer any questions or concerns that I have.
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#16 Tony E. 2013-01-21 15:58
My only statement on this is to agree with Chris. The voters rejected the opportunity to have better representation which I will never understand.
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#17 Janet Leslie 2013-01-22 06:30
Regarding Mr. Rankin's post, I would like to mention that the township board represents all 12,000 residents of the township, including the 6,000 that live in the village.
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#18 Mark Freeman 2013-01-22 11:21
Every Township in the State of Michigan could potentialy violate the O.M.A. It is impossible to totaly prevent violations simply by continuing to increase the number of persons serving on an elected Board or Council. In 2008 and again in 2012, the voters elected me to serve as their Treasurer and I am honored to do so. They trust my honesty and personal integrity, as well as that of Ms.Winchester and Mr.Smith. We know what the O.M.A.is. We would never violate the O.M.A. For anyone to suggest otherwise is to personaly attack our deepest held ethics and convictions,which is akin to attacking our religious beliefs. The public recognizes the political shenanigans our harshest critics are engaging in.
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#19 Bgiving 2013-01-22 14:59
The Smiths and Mr Hoffman, a few months ago both threatened Mrs Winchester to make her life a living hell at no matter what the cost. Making false accusations and speaking lies are all part of their plan. Why don't the Smiths go to the Bank ? they are the ones who their house . It's a shame these people have to go to such extremes as false accusations and lies. This is a trademark of irresponsible people finding someone else to blame instead of looking in the mirror. Now they lie in wait until the next meeting to attack with their cruel tongues and afflicted minds. Mrs Winchester is a kind and righteous woman with more integrity and honesty, who would never use such mannerism"s as flipping the bird as Maria Smith stated. Mrs Winchester and God will forgive you for the harm you done . I wont
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#20 CC22 2013-01-22 18:04
To Mark Freeman, well put. I think that the three of you at the township do a great job...a sometimes thankless job. Keep your spirits up. You have a lot of support. And
bgiving, I agree with all of your comments. The township is getting a lot of flack over the Smith property. The trouble lies between the Smiths and their mortgage company.
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#21 Linus 2013-01-22 21:52
How righteous is it to covet and "dream" of taking another's property? Has everyone forgotten the email to the three township officers (at the time) that had to be FOIA'ed to see the light of day? What about the treasurer moving in on the property from the bank, I believe that little move took away my rights, as a private citizen, to openly bid on buying this property. Should that also be ignored in the name of integrity? And then there is the issue of the township officials demanding a private road to be built if the Smiths wanted to split the land, but now that the township has it, they will not even address the issue that they are not ponying up for a road. Is a "do as I say, not as I do" or "the rules only apply to you (private citizens) and not to me (the township board)" mentality really exhibiting the type of ethics to be proud of? Get off your high horse.
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#22 Bgiving 2013-01-23 12:47
Linus say these words often and slowly until you get it "mortgage default my fault"
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#23 hollyshopper 2013-01-23 17:40
Forget it, Linus. The township residents clearly don't care about the integrity of their elected leaders. If they did, we'd have seen significant changeover on that board. As usual, it's just the longtime residents looking out for each other, regardless as to whether they are right or wrong. I refuse to believe so many residents really believe the Smiths case is about a foreclosure. They just can't be that stupid.
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#24 Frank Sweeney 2013-01-23 18:20
Righto, hollyshopper. Bgiving's response is just a typical example of a person who really hasn't taken the time to understand both sides of the issue. Read the Smith's appellate court brief linked in after Maria Smith's letter to the editor. It tells the rest of the story that the township's propaganda has yet to admit.
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#25 Tony E. 2013-01-23 19:29
I have gotten contacted by 3 different people asking me to clarify what I said above. After explaining it, two of the people said it came out totally wrong in print...
So to clarify.. What I said above was not an attack (or defense) of any of the current board members. It was regarding the failed proposal to add two more members to IN MY OPINION better represent the members of the community. I am not going to get involved in a he said, she said thing here. In my brief contacts with Karin and Mark to be pleasant, polite and professional. Others may have different circumstances and experiences. Since I wasn't there for this alledged violation or the "bird sighting" I cannot and will not comment on it. I spoke publicly about the rumor mongering that goes on which I fell into some months ago. I can't stop others from doing it but I will do nothing to encourage it or engage in it. The facts will sort themselves out and until then, I'm willing to wait.
So I hope this clears up my position on this. I hope all residents have managed to stay safe during this cold we have been experiencing.
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#26 Linus 2013-01-23 21:30
Bgiving: No one is disputing the mortgage foreclosure. That happened.

Wake up to what happened next. The township took away my rights as a private citizen to acquire this property, by pressuring PHH mortgage (Roger Walsh told them in a letter that the township would begin fining PHH for ordinance violations, which caused the "gift" of the parcel). As a citizen of this nation, I have the right to private property, as does other citizens. By taking ownership (still to be determined whether it was legal ownership) of the property, the township stopped any foreclosure sale that we the citizens could have availed ourselves. Remember that each of our elected officials swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States, to me that means upholding the rights guaranteed within the Constitution.

I just read the Smith's Appellate Court brief at the link in Maria Smith's letter, and apparently the title to the property is not even in the township's name. This was affirmed by Mr. Freeman in a recent township meeting where they were going to "split the property for tax reasons". So they have no title to the property, but have forced the eviction of the very citizens that they were elected to represent.

Lets see what the Appellate Court rules. Everything is riding on that decision, and it could get expensive if the township loses. Apparently that is a risk they were willing to take.
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#27 CC22 2013-01-25 12:41
I think that a mediator needs to sit down with the Smiths, their mortgage company, their title company, Holly Township and Oakland County and iron out all these problems. It seems everyone has some blame.
Settle it.
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