Board at odds over cost-saving measures

FLINT TWP. — A series of motions designed to cut down on some expenses were brought before the board of trustees Jan. 21 and created some dissent between officials.

The motions were presented to the board as cost-savings measures to try and tackle the township’s growing deficit problem. The motions included restricting access to the township’s attorneys, restricting non-emergency overtime, conference, workshops and training and making it so only the board has final say in the hiring of all employees.

Supervisor Karyn Miller explained the first motion, regarding the township attorneys, as a measure to prevent multiple officials and employees from seeking legal advise and instead requiring all requests for legal opinions to go through her office.

“We have a large deficit in our budget,” said Miller. “This would improve communication and cut costs. We’ve never stopped anyone from going to the township attorney, but we need to make cuts. This would authorize the township supervisor as the primary point of contact for the attorney.”

Trustee Frank Kasle said he doesn’t think the supervisor can restrict other elected officials from talking to the township attorney.

Miller said she agreed, but she said from looking at the legal bills the attorneys are sometimes receiving multiple calls weekly. She said she thinks that she should at least be informed when another elected official calls the attorney and what their question is so there is no duplication of requests for legal advice.

“It’s good to improve communication,” she said. “I can’t stop anyone from seeking counsel on your fiduciary duties…I agree with that. It’s a way to control our purse strings.”

Clerk Kathy Funk said she objected to the wording of the resolution because it specifically states no other township official or employee can contact the attorney without the approval of township supervisor.

“This transfers our authorization to you or your designee,” said Funk. “Our own township attorney wanted to be here tonight, but he was not contacted prior to come to the board meeting.”

Miller said she did speak with one of the township attorneys prior to bringing the motion before the board. She said she did not know there was an objection by any of the board members to the language in the motion.

Funk said further the resolution, if approved would take away the board’s authority, as well as that of Police Chief Kevin Salter.

Treasurer Lisa Anderson said she didn’t think that was the intent, to which Funk countered the language specifically said no one but the supervisor could speak with the attorneys.

Both Funk and Kasle said they wanted to postpone the decision until the attorney could be present.

Trustee Barb Vert said all the motions were there to do was to curb costs.

“Let’s say at times (calls to the attorney) are unnecessary,” said Vert. “I request those bills every month in print and I read through them and some of them I shake my head.”

Miller added she should at least be notified about call to the attorney because she signs the invoices and the pays a lot for attorney fees.

“Somehow, someway somebody needs to be able to say we need to slow down on spending money here,” said Miller.

Kasle continued to object to officials being prevented from contacting the attorney, while Funk agreed, adding she could not support the motion as written.

A motion was made to postpone a decision until the next meeting, with Anderson, Funk and Kasle voting yes, while Miller, Vert and Trustee Carol Pfaff-Dahl voted no. Trustee Tom Klee was absent.

The motion failed, but the vote was put off until the next meeting.

The board then considered a motion restricting non-emergency overtime, conferences, workshops and training.

Funk asked for a definition of nonemergency because she said her department is in the midst of elections and she has required more overtime for her staff than usual.

“There’s non-essential and statutory,” she said. “Does this include the amount of overtime with the presidential election? (The clerk’s office has) to operate with overtime, there are statutory deadlines to be met. I will not allow for our voters in Flint Township to be disenfranchised by a definitional term of non-emergency overtime.”

Anderson said she didn’t think there was any attempt to hinder the election process.

“We know you do a good job, but there are times like last two Fridays that it was not essential that applications went out on those days early,” said Anderson. “They could have waited. We could have had other staff help.”

Funk said her office worked overtime Jan. 10 and 17 getting out voter cards for two precincts affected by a change in polling places and sending out applications for absentee ballots. She said the work cannot be done during regular office hours because of interruptions at the desk and other employees cannot help because on certified employees are allowed to handle the ballots.

“I had 5,000 applications we had to print out, it took 12 hours to print and once you start the process you can stop,” said Funk. “The overtime will be refunded by the state.”

Anderson said she thought the work could have waited until the following Monday instead of being done on overtime afterhours Friday.

“There was no need to do that,” she said. “This is taxpayer dollars we’re talking about – we should spend it more wisely.”

Funk said the political parties have to reimburse the state for elections and the state sends that money back to the municipalities to cover election costs.

“So we waste it?” Anderson replied.

“I don’t think it was wasted,” said Funk. “If you heard my comments, 1,700 applications have already been sent back (see related story in today’s View) I couldn’t send out 5,000 ballots on a Monday. You can’t stop in the middle of it. Never has a clerk be questioned about overtime for an election, that I’ve ever heard of.”

Miller said there are other municipalities who aren’t using overtime to do their election work, to which Funk replied Flint Township has the second largest voter database in Genesee County.

“We ought to take a close look at what we’re doing here,” said Kasle. “Government has functions. Elections must be conducted properly. There’s lots we can do to save money. Getting ballots out is one of most important functions of government and we shouldn’t hamper that process. That could be what you’re doing here.”

Miller said nobody is stopping the clerk from doing her job, but she said the township officials have to work together to get through a tough year.

Funk agreed the township needs to make cuts but objected to cutting “something so fundamental to democracy.”

The overtime measure passed, with Funk and Kasle voting no. Klee was absent.

The motion about hiring of all employees coming to the township board also passed.