FLINT TWP. — Clerk Kathy Funk says attending classes and conferences are essential to keeping up with training and certifications in the clerk’s office.
But some members of the Board of Trustees say keeping down costs means less travel expenses and fewer conferences.
These differences of opinion came to a head at the March 2 township board meeting where classes and conferences for the clerk and her staff sparked some debate among the elected officials.
At issue were motions presented to the board by Funk to send Deputy Clerk Angela Thygesen for her third year of training at the Clerk’s Institute, March 20-27 in Mt. Pleasant; for Funk to attend the Michigan Townships Association (MTA) Annual Conference, April 28-30 in Traverse City; and for Funk and Thygesen to attend the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks (MAMC) Annual Conference being held June 10-12 on Mackinac Island.
The first motion considered was to send Thygesen to the third year of training at the Clerk’s Institute. Trustee Barb Vert raised the issue of a recent board decision to cut out all non-essential travel expenses for elected officials and staff.
Further, Vert questioned why Funk would send any of her three-person staff away to a conference in what the clerk has described as a busy election year.
“I’m trying to understand, this being a very busy year for the clerk’s office, that this is more time off and you’re already using a lot of overtime,” said Vert. “This is another person who will be out of your office.”
Funk said Thygesen doesn’t receive overtime while attending clerk’s training and argued that while this is an extremely busy election year with three major elections, there is some downtime in the office during the March 20-27 time period, as the department winds down from the March 10 presidential primary and prepares for the August primary.
Vert asked if the training Thygesen would be attending was required, to which Funk replied it was not, but should be. She also noted this was the third and final year of training Thygesen had already started and the township had invested a nonrefundable $650 toward.
Treasurer Lisa Anderson referred back to the board’s earlier directive to limit non-essential travel in order to save the township money.
“We passed a resolution to limit travel and overtime,” she said. “It appears that was all talk, we’re not really limiting anything. I understand (Thygesen) is on a track – this is her third year – and we’ll loose the $650 already invested.”
Trustee Tom Klee said he remembered the board talked essential and non-essential travel expenses and he said he thinks training to keep the township “top notch” and professional is still important. He also said he thinks the time and money already invested meant it was something that should be completed.
Funk referred to Proposal 18-3, approved by Michigan voters in 2018, as having made it necessary for she and her staff to receive additional training.
Proposal 18-3 was a constitutional amendment allowing a United States citizen who is qualified to vote in Michigan to become automatically registered to vote when applying for, updating or renewing a driver’s license or state-issued personal identification card, unless the person declines. It also allows a person to register to vote with proof of residency; obtain a ballot during the 2-week period prior to an election, up to and including Election Day; obtain an absent voter ballot without providing a reason; and cast a straight-ticket vote for all candidates of a particular political party when voting in a partisan general election.
“It turned everything in our world different, how we manage things is different,” said Funk. “It’s important to get all the training we can get. There is money left in my (department’s budget) line item for conferences.”
For the clerk’s training, the board voted 4-3 in favor of approving the $1,333.85 for Thygesen’s trip to the conference.
Vert, Supervisor Karyn Miller and Trustee Carol Pfaff-Dahl voted against the motion.
Next, the board decided on a motion to send Funk to the MTA Annual Conference scheduled April 28-30. Funk said she was awarded the Val Pace Scholarship from the Genesee County Chapter of the MTA to attend the conference in Traverse City. The scholarship covers the full conference registration fee of $353.
Funk said every educational opportunity during 2020 is a must during the Presidential Election Cycle. She said the Bureau of Elections uses conferences as a way of reaching a bigger audience since it is very difficult for them to reach out across 83 counties. Total expenses for the trip, in addition to the scholarship covering the entrance fee, are $522.18.
Again, Vert questioned the clerk taking off time from her duties during an election cycle.
“This is a lot of time off during what I’ve been repeatedly told is…I’m just going to call it a ‘Monster Year’,” said Vert. “So, all this overtime, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the budget … it’s a lot of downtime … when all I’ve heard is from January to November is that all you’re doing is elections, and now you’re not? With all these conferences coming up, I feel it’s not good timing.”
Funk said she thinks its necessary for her to attend this conference because the Secretary of State and her staff can’t meet with 100 plus clerks in the field but are able to do so and convey useful information at a conference setting. Among the topics she said will be discussed are election security, educating voters about Proposal 3 (18-3), election updates, and qualified voter profile update.
“That’s not something that’s mandated, but we’re expected to know it,” she said. “They expect us to attend conferences, so we know this. It’s a way of them reaching a bigger audience.”
Trustee Frank Kasle said he thinks it’s important for key people at the township offices to keep up to date on requirements by the state.
“We’re talking about an expense that’s not great,” said Kasle. “We’re spending a lot of time on this item and it’s not warranted. The clerk requests to go to annual conference at a small cost, we need to approve it. If I were her, I’d resent all this discussion.”
Vert replied that it is the board’s job to discuss expenditures of money.
The board voted 5-2 to approve Funk’s request for the MTA Annual Conference, Vert and Miller voting against the motion.
The final motion was to approve sending Funk and Thygesen to attend the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks (MAMC) Annual Conference June 10-12. Again, a budgeted expense in the amount of $1,427, which would leave $1,213.33 in the clerk’s annual budget for travel.
Funk explained the Michigan Director of Elections and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson will be speaking, as well allowing the two the most educational benefits from the conference. She added most of the clerks attending are accompanied by their deputies in order to receive the full benefits of the conference.
Funk said she serves on the Education Committee for the MAMC.
The board denied Funk’s request to attend the MAMC Conference by a vote of 4-3. Miller, Pfaff-Dahl, Vert and Anderson all voted against the motion.