Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Turmoil in the Township

Hi All,
Last night ( 4-13-15 Board of Trustees meeting) was interesting.
See my blog written BEFORE the meeting  and view the ACTUAL 4/13/15 meeting here and read the minutes of the meeting here  (when posted).
End result:  Treasurer's salary remains the same and will not be changed at the 2016 election

The 3 elected officials and the 4 trustees heard a lot from the citizens that took the time to show up.
I would say most of  the comments from the public supported a full time Treasurer position with full time pay.

While the agenda item was reported to be about a 2016 election/Treasurer's salary pay rate change ... the reasoning for that supposed need to reduce the pay was clearly initiated by Leo Savoie and his reported personal observations and reported comments from staff and citizens that current Treasurer Dan Devine didn't spend full time at the township doing his job (Savoie's opinion).  Supervisor Savoie gave each trustee a packet at the meeting... which supposedly none had seen previously but gave his reasons for the agenda topic.  This packet was NOT part of the packet given or shown to the public.  I hope it is part of the minutes.  What exactly was written by Savoie?

Dan Devine spoke/responded to the allegations.   He told the audience/trustees how and where he does his full time job as Treasurer and the many other activities he is involved in on behalf of the citizens that benefit the township.  He listed his educational credentials for the job and the many accomplishments over the past 15 years as Township Treasurer.

Another interesting "event"... that clearly seemed staged and planned ahead of time.... was having former Supervisor David Payne, who traveled all the way from his cottage/ home up north... to answer "questions" from the Board of Trustees  about the need and jobs/duties of the Treasurer  AS PART OF THE BOARD DISCUSSION.    His comments were not all kind about  Mr. Devine.  It is important to note that David Payne "chose" Leo Savoie over Dan Devine to be his choice for the next Supervisor when he "retired" aka Quit in the middle of his elected term.   Now, it is rumored.. I have not FOIA this information, but it is rumored that David Payne is paid to be a consultant for the Township.  Was this appearance at this meeting part of that job?  While David Payne was Supervisor... were contracts/languages/ written to allow for pensions to be almost equal to pay?   HIS pension is close to +/- what he was earning when he "retired.   Unbelievable and unsustainable for this community. 

Based on the several efforts of Trustee Corrinne Khederian to try and formulate a motion... and comments by Trustees  Neal Barnett and Brian Kepes to meet again to continue the discussion on the treasurer's salary I thought the Board was going to vote to change the Treasurer's salary at the 2016 election.  Clerk Roncelli was clearly upset by this discussion even being an agenda item.   Trustee Buckley supported Dan Devine and the full time position of Treasurer.
Ms. Khederian claims she votes independently... but quickly withdrew her motion when seeing Mr. Savoie lean forward and announce before the call for the vote that he would not support it.  Savoie could see that HIS VOTE would break a possible 3-3 tie IF THE MOTION went to vote.   Savoie certainly is smart enough to know that the audience was not on his/and the 3 trustee's side. 

(Let's just say it... this SEEMED very  personal/political/  between  Savoie  & Devine..with the Trustees aligning with one or the other)  the audience supported Dan Devine for the most part... and saw that the Board was trying to push him out of Township government  by making the 2016 Treasurer's job PAY... something that Devine would not choose to run for in the 2016 election.)
UNSPOKEN issue in my opinion......There is a large number of employees at or above the retirement age of 50 in the Township.  When they retire, the Prudential Guaranteed Pension Account needs the funding to cover EACH retiree.  FACT:  the Township did NOT put the full $80-85 million bond money into that Prudential account.  Money is required to be deposited in that account as employees retire.  Meanwhile, the Township decided to invest a portion of that $80-85 million bond money.
I believe, more employees are choosing retirement earlier than the Township management expected.
So, some of the money that was EXPECTED to be earning money in investments needed to be transferred out to the Prudential account.   Some of the Bond money is gone because of EXCESSIVE fees being charged to the Township.  How the bond money is invested is questionable.   The investment returns have not been what was expected.   The township 7....who voted unanimously on all decisions to buy the bonds and voted unanimously  how to invest them ... need to quit fighting amongst themselves and get a new investment company....quit giving COLA to retirees.. because those expenses are NOT guaranteed by Prudential and are extra expenses every year out of our operating budget... change/ or end the retiree health benefits/  abide by PA152 / and a lot of other suggestions.   

What is going to happen if we keep taking money out of accounts that were intended to EARN money for the township to pay the debts over the 20 year life of the Bonds? 
Like every other community with public pensions.... the pensions are unsustainable... and when/if the community leadership attempts to deal with the pension problem.. they find there is no easy solution.. or any solution... and wanting to blame someone... for the problem.  I wouldn't be surprised if the 2% raise to the employees this past April was given in exchange for a promise that no one retires this year and triggers more million dollar payments into the Prudential Guaranteed Pension Account this year.   More millages coming in 2016.   The 2% raise... NOT an agenda item... just hidden in the budget... set by Leo Savoie, approved by the Trustees???  which I think is illegal.


 Here are some other changes that could be made... that will help the taxpayer LEARN and UNDERSTAND  more about how their government works and how their tax dollars are spent.

My opinions....

1.  return the government to a 5 day work week
2.  give email addresses for Trustees and post that on the website
3.  start fixing the unsustainable pension / retiree health insurance  problems at contract negotiations and if can't/ start reducing the staff levels to that which can be afforded
4.  put bid proposals out for the investment company, the legal firm, HR&C, the traffic and landscaping review contracts, and other long term/ and short term vendors
5.   In 2011 it was said all public meetings would be Audio/Video/Archived ...but that is not done.... and the Planning and ZBA committees need that.  The true record of what is said at those meetings are vital to those that need to go to court..and the township is often one taken to court.  Why not have accurate records?    
6.  Abolish the Design Review Board that is only the 3 elected officials (Leo,Jan, Dan) and give those agenda items to the Planning Commission or allow the Planning department to permit signs, etc.  that meet the ordinances.  
7.  Make the Financial and Fiduciary Review Reports as an AGENDA item to be reported and discussed/ allow public comment  and to have mandatory quarterly study sessions on all things financial/investments/pensions.
8.  Make more information available FREE on the website...  Contract language, which employees get vehicles,  employee pay/ benefits/   ETC.
9.  Now that payroll and vouchers is in the BOARD PACKET to review... allow public comment on that agenda item.   For instance, since I have argued in the past about the township making donations to non-profits with taxpayer funds as not right.... I see that some non-profits  have now received a check... and no presentation was made before the Board as an agenda item requesting approval for the funds ... is that legal?
10.  Hold several public meetings between Nov. and April to discuss the budget... rather than do it all in one meeting

******   there is so much that needs fixing... start somewhere... and work quickly...  THANKS.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Supervisor Savoie Suggests Reducing Treasurer's Salary

Hi All,
A very disturbing agenda item... being presented by Supervisor Savoie.... that has NO DOCUMENTS FOR THE PUBLIC TO REVIEW IN THE April 13, 2015 Board of Trustees BOARD PACKET.

THAT IS:  Agenda item # 5:

Does that mean ONLY Savoie  KNOWS what is going to be said?  Or does that mean... Savoie has met with the other Board members... or some of them... and discussed with them what Savoie wants to accomplish... or does that mean Savoie  has the legal firm writing up some proposal or "resolution" ahead of time ? Is Savoie doing this on his own?   I can't believe that Dan Devine has suggested this course of action. I don't know. Is there going to be a vote?  WHAT IS TOWNSHIP LAW?   I do know that Township law does allow to HIRE a person to run the township....instead of a Supervisor.   However, there is a process that needs to be followed.  Perhaps THAT should be discussed.

At this point I would say, contact your TRUSTEES.  ASK them questions.  But the Township REFUSES to give township email addresses to the Trustees and publish those email addresses on the website.  Unbelievable.

Will there be any new faces in 2016 on the ballot?   I hope so. Will the Treasurer office be a full time position?  I hope so.  Does the Township deserved better leadership and better legal advice?  YES...my opinion.

In August of 2011, David Payne "retired" before his Supervisor term ended to collect a pension of  $11,122 per month - not including the retiree health benefits... and who knows what else. What seems to be a decades old process... the township leadership quits or retires before an election so the existing members can choose /appoint the successor.  That gives that person an edge in the next election... which apparently most Township residents have no desire to challenge.

So, in 2011,......."the chosen one"... to succeed Payne as Supervisor was Leo Savoie.    However, Treasurer Dan Devine, challenged the process.  EGAD.... not supposed to happen in AAA rated elite Bloomfield Township.  Leo Savoie won out in a 5-2 split of the Board.. which I believe Devine eventually bowed out to make Savoie appointment unanimous... as is "assumed" to be the usual result of any agenda item in this Township.

Since then, the "tension" has continued between Savoie and Devine.  If you watch the video's of the Board of Trustees meetings, you can hear/see/  the tension between the two.
My gut feeling is... since Devine is the Treasurer and the PENSION FUND is not working out as THEY ALL expected,  some on the Board want him out.   The township has made some bad decisions...all  seven of them... and the expendable one seems to be leaning toward Dan Devine... my opinion.  But how can that happen?  He is elected.  Well, is this action being suggested to make the next election less desirable for the position Devine desires?


Now... I want all of you to understand... I objected to the $85 million dollar pension bond plan from the very beginning to the very end.   This Township Board... rushed into the process... ALL OF THEM....  I attended many/most of the meeting, including Special Study Sessions.   THE BOARD.... ALL  OF THEM....  voted for the pension bond plan and voted for the investment plan....without asking many questions.   At one study session where Prudential was present, Prudential suggested a larger portion of the $85 million dollars to be put into the Guaranteed Account they hold.  When public comment was available, I asked to hear why Prudential thought more should be in the Guaranteed Account vs the equity funds  since the Board did not choose to discuss that issue/ input when Prudential suggested that at the meeting.  I was basically told,  "WE" like the investment plan as Schwartz/Township proposed.  Prudential did not get to elaborate at that meeting. All seven trustees voted to approve how they were going to deposit the $85 million(less expenses)....and now it is not working as projected. Problems have surfaced.   Perhaps the Defined Benefit Pension Plan is NOT fully funded. 

Those voting for the financial plan ... ALL have been Trustees on the Board or elected officers for many years.   Where have the questions been for DECADES ?
Well, the Township has AAA ratings. It appears the Treasurer has things running smoothly.   However, why didn't the Trustees ask questions when the bond issue was presented?  Why didn't the Trustees learn about the various aspects of how the township operates?  Why is it that whenever the township needs money...they just propose another millage or special assessment district or more bonds?  WHY?  Because  the citizens continue to approve millages whenever asked.  The money flow seems endless.

Recently the Board recommended to replace the 26 years of services provided by Jenkins, Magnus, Volk & Carroll  for the annual audit.  The Township bid out this service and they (JMVC) were not the low bidder.  It seems finance director Jason Theis  suggested/requested to the Trustees that this service could be bid out.  Really?  Did anyone in particular suggest he make that recommendation?  I know it wasn't Dan Devine.  Why, because Devine is the Treasurer and he knew that the Township had previously said that professional services are exempted from bidding.  Other long time service providers: Hubbell, Roth & Clark, engineering and William Hampton, attorney....  they have been with the township for over 25 years each.... why not bid them out, too?  Is the Board targeting Dan Devine and his department?

Recently the Board recommended and approved  a financial advisory panel.   The financial sustainability committee will make recommendations to the Board on all investments.
Who is on that committee?  Why Supervisor Savoie, of course, and employee Jason Theis, finance director, and elected Treasurer Dan Devine,  elected Trustee Brian Kepes, and three Township citizens appointed by the Board of Trustees.  They are Dave Petoskey, Joe Moynihan, and Sean Smyth.  Who are they? What are their credentials?  What credentials do Savoie, Kepes and Theis have for investment advising?  I believe Treasurer Devine does have investment credentials.

OK, SO NOW A GROUP of people...with who knows what credentials...  are going to make investment recommendations to the Board of Trustees. 
Hello.... 3 out of 7  of this group ARE part of the Board of Trustees that will hear the recommendations. 
Another is an employee that may not want to disagree with the 3 Trustees on the committee? Job security?   
That means, the GROUP making investment recommendations only need one other Trustee to go along with their recommendation for a majority vote.   
Remember, there has always been a "group of people" making recommendations:  ... a reputable full service investment company with many employees hired by the township ....along with an elected Treasurer knowledgeable about investing that made investment recommendations every year to the Trustees.  Currently about 40% of the Pension funds are in equity accounts by Gregory J. Schwartz & Co.  The other 60 % is held by Prudential in the Guaranteed account.   Every investment was APPROVED by the entire board.  If ANY of the Trustees didn't like the recommendations or understand the recommendations... they should have asked for clarification!  However, if all the trustees don't ASK or DON'T UNDERSTAND investing...and don't continue to ask questions,  what will be different?  What will happen to both of these companies?  Will they be replaced also? 

When the Township leadership gives the retirees COST OF LIVING payments that are NOT GUARANTEED by Prudential... the current BUDGET... needs to pay that COLA money every year into the Guaranteed Prudential Account.  But does it....or has it??   Therefore, the Guarantee account is constantly under funded.  Look at the pension amounts!  Quit giving cost of living increases!!!

Did you see the pension fund list and how much our current retirees are paid?   See the Board of Trustees Special Study Session Packet for March 10, 2015 @ http://bloomfieldtwpmi.minutesondemand.com/
for the entire list of current retirees and their monthly pension.   Those numbers do NOT include their retiree health benefit costs.

Are you aware that there is ANOTHER pension plan for employees?  It is for those that are NOT in the defined benefit plan.  How much money is needed from the current budget each year to fund that account?  Is that pension being fully funded EACH YEAR?  When will the first employee retire under that plan?

In February 2010... a small number of voting public went to the February "stealth" ballot ...  and by approx. 700 votes approved a 1.3 mills ten year millage... to keep the status quo as property values were dropping.  

In June 2011 the employees accepted a six year contract.... with wage openers in 2013 and 2015. 
In April 2013, all full time employees received a 2% raise. 
In April 2015, all full time employees received a 2% raise. 
There is a 4% increase in health care premiums.
There is a 6% increase in health care premiums for retirees. 
The employees work a 4 day work week.  How much is spent in overtime?
What else?  Where can we read the contracts?
Do all these raises/costs also raise the pension obligations ?  Yes.

WHO negotiated the pay raises and other costs?
Nothing has been approved by the entire Board of Trustees.
Has Supervisor Savoie, who told me back in December of 2014... that there was room in the budget to give all employees a 2% raise... and told the township in March that the employees got a 2 % raise and other cost increases do just that on his own?  Savoie sets the budget.. that's his job.  But changing contract facts is not.
Did Savoie also just basically  TELL the TRUSTEES that .... no vote/no agenda item/no discussion/ no facts/ it's a done deal?  Do the Trustees know who negotiated the contract change?  Who signed that change?  Who voted to approve that change to the contract.   Answer:   ???  no one??  Who should know?  Where is our attorney? Where are our TRUSTEES???

Savoie ( along with several on the Board) has been making lots of changes... and those changes are costing the Township taxpayers big bucks.  He has encouraged repaving the subdivision roads with about 52% approval... changing the long standing and still standing procedure for roads at the Oakland County Road Commission.  

Some subdivisions are getting sewers, water mains or roads... for FREE  while others must pay.  A pipeline value was put on a valuable residential lot.... and the neighbors got a half million dollar road from the company.  A country club gets to "apply" for a "special event"... which is really employee parking for 7-8 months on residential property for a small fee of $125.   Residents are being told at ZBA meetings that certain topics can NOT be discussed, even though it is a crucial part of the discussion.  New "resolutions" are being written or new ordinances are created or "interpreted"... to accommodate certain people or businesses. Sidewalks that many don't want. The list goes on......

Is Supervisor Savoie on a major power grab in the township?  Is anyone paying attention?

Monday, March 23, 2015

OHCC Residential Lot a Parking Lot? "Special Favor" by Design Review Board?

Hi All,
Last week there was a Bloomfield Township DESIGN REVIEW BOARD meeting.  The Board consists of 3 people, the Supervisor, the Clerk and the Treasurer.... or an alternate from the Board of Trustees.   The meetings are held @ 2 pm  and advance notice/posting of agendas is only 18 hours notice.

1. Creation. The Design Review Board is hereby
created and established for the charter
Township for the purposes of assisting the
Township Planning Commission and Township
Board to preserve, protect and enhance the
aesthetic appeal of the Township, protect
property values through the application of good
design principles, and promote the general
health, safety and welfare of the community

From the Design Review Board agenda of 3/18/15:

Oakland Hills Country Club (OHCC) was on the agenda for a "special event"  that would last EVERY DAY from April 1, 2015 to the end of October 31, 2015   for 50 cars..or so.. whereby the employees could park on a RESIDENTIAL LOT that the club owns.  "Temporary Seasonal Parking" is NOT a "special event" ! 

The Township ordinance for "special events"  is NOT what this OHCC request is all about.  This request for parking does not meet the criteria for this "special events" ordinance.   WHY is OHCC on this agenda?  This seems more like:  "special favors"?

The property is zoned RESIDENTIAL.   What other residential lot is permitted to have 50 + cars parking on it every day for 7 months of the year?  For a total fee of $125.00?   When I was redoing the hardwood floors in my previous home, I had a truck parked in my driveway loaded with some of my larger pieces of furniture.  I got a notice from the Ordinance Dept. saying the truck could not be parked there for days...move it...or be fined.  Have you ever heard about the Ordinance Dept. issuing notices because a boat or RV or POD or similar item is parked in a driveway?  Probably.  Yet, this same ordinance department has "missed seeing"?  50 plus cars parked on a residential lot for years?

I believe, that if OHCC wants or needs additional parking and has purchased adjacent property that they should be entitled to submit a request to REZONE the property to Parking designation.  That way, the neighbors would have the right to discuss the proposed change.  If approved to change zoning to PARKING,  the property would need to be paved with setback requirements from the adjacent residential lot with the proper landscape screening, etc.  Proper drainage and lighting would be required.  All that takes time and money.

OHCC "discovered" last fall that their use of this residential lot for parking was not "legal" and so did the Township. Then, that parking became a public issue.   Therefore, the township had to take "action" of the "illegal" parking on the residential lot.  So, last fall, OHCC applied for and got this "special event" permit (what I call a "special favor" ) retroactively to April through November 2014 so they could continue to use the residential lot for parking until the golfing season ended. 
Who thought up that "solution"?

Because the parking became an issue in the Fall of 2014,  OHCC had time to submit paperwork to change the zoning on their residential lot.  OHCC had time to speak to adjacent neighbors on the north side of Maple Road to attempt to rezone and approve the property for parking.  But no, apparently, with a past "friendly" approval of a "special event" permit for $125.... why not try that again.  After all, the township can hear this agenda item on a Wednesday, at 2 pm  with only 18 hour noticing.  So ...who will know?

To add a little extra information to all of this, the Township has approved a sidewalk on the north side of Maple Road at a cost of over $500,000  even though there is a sidewalk on the south side of Maple Road.  The homeowners, for the most part, on the north side of Maple are opposed to the sidewalk and will lose established landscaping in the front of their properties that buffer the traffic noise of Maple Rd.   Who really benefits from this half million dollar sidewalk?  Why, I would guess the 50 + OHCC employees that park their car on the grassy residential lot on the north side of Maple Road that need to get to the intersection to cross Maple to get to their jobs.  FYI:  many businesses are required to put in sidewalks at their own expense. 

I will assume that Supervisor Savoie recused himself from the discussion and the vote at the 3/18/15 Design Review Board as he is a Past President of OHCC.  Did an alternate sit in for the discussion and vote?  Was there discussion on the legality of parking on residential lots... for 50 + cars every day for seven months?  Was there discussion on changing the zoning?   Was there point by point check list of the requirements to get a "special event"  status for $125.00?  Was there discussion on whether this will then permit other residential property owners to seek a permit for an extraordinary amount of cars to be parked on their property every day?  Most importantly, did anyone point out that this is NOT A SPECIAL EVENT?

WELL.....I learned that the "special event" for OHCC parking was approved at the 3/18/15 DRB  meeting.

I ask these questions because I could not attend the meeting.  I wanted to HEAR what was said and by WHOM?   Certainly, this meeting was audio recorded... so the secretary could write the minutes accurately?  But NO !  READ ON:

I requested via FOIA (Freedom of Information Act)  for an audio copy of the March 18, 2015 @ 2 pm meeting.  This is the unbelievable response from the township:
Dear Marcia:
Re:  Final Determination of Request for Records

This notice is issued in response to your March 19, 2015, request for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), MCL 15.231 et seq, received by this office on March 19, 2015. 

You requested information that you described as “Design Review Board meeting audio tape of the meeting.”
Your request has been denied in full or in part for the following reason:

The record you request does not exist.  Design Review Board meetings are not audio or video recorded.   (red highlighting done by me for emphasis)
As to the denial of your request, pursuant to section 10 of the FOIA, you have the right to do one of the following at your option:

1.      Submit to the head of this public body a written appeal that specifically states the word “appeal” and must identify the reason or reasons you believe the denial should be reversed.  The public body must respond to your appeal within 10 business days of its receipt.  Under unusual circumstances, the time for response to your appeal may be extended by 10 business days.

2.     Commence an action in the circuit court to compel disclosure of the public records within 180 days after this public body’s final determination to deny your request.  If you prevail in such an action, the court is to award reasonable attorney fees, costs, and disbursements.  Further, if the court finds the denial to be arbitrary and capricious, you may receive punitive damages of $500.00.

The Design Review Board was suggested to be CREATED  by the THEN township leadership years ago and they gave themselves the POWER to make decisions.  I have called in question this Design Review Board authority and the kinds of decisions they make in other blogs. 

While this meeting was being held.... the nation and the state of Michigan was honoring SUNSHINE WEEK... the right of the people to request Freedom of Information Act  (FOIA)  to make sure that their government is being open and transparent and to allow citizens to find out what and how their elected leaders are governing.  

Yes... I KNOW THAT THERE WILL BE WRITTEN MNUTES POSTED, but ... they are NOT word for word/ and only based on the decisions made at the time of the person handwriting what he/she heard.

My opinion,
Eliminate the Design Review Board and have all those agenda items go to the Planning Commission Board.  The  DRB  was/is a power grab by the three top elected officials, in my opinion. 

Fire anyone in the Planning Department that does not follow the ORDINANCES as written...and/or who does not advise or make any issues known to contradict the ordinance available to the board members in his/her presentation of the agenda item.  The elected board members should know the ordinances.. but the STAFF writing up and presenting the agenda requests to the Board  should make  note of any circumstances of that ordinance that is NOT BEING MET...by the requesting party... The Board doing the voting should clearly understand the ordinance.

DEMAND that the Bloomfield Township Trustees have a TOWNSHIP email posted on the website, so the citizens of this township can CONTACT their ELECTED leaders.    I have requested this for some time now.. and the township will do NOTHING to make email addresses for the trustees. 

IN CONTRAST to this OHCC "special favor" (as I call it)... instead of changing the zoning to meet the parking need..... BELOW is an example of a business doing what is right when their business needs and the zoning requirements need to be aligned.

From the Planning Commission Agenda of March 16, 2015 :