Newest Saugatuck Councilwoman Accuses Colleagues Of Intimidation, Threatening Behavior
The newest elected member to the Saugatuck City Council has gone public with devastating charges leveled against her collegues, including once feeling physically threatened by the city manager and what she continues to feel is a concerted effort by some colleagues to shun and bully her.
The city officials that Saugatuck City Council Member Wendy Wise Fisher accuses deny any wrongdoing and encourage her to go through formal and proper channels to address any concerns she may have.
In the November 2013 election, Fisher received enough votes - 251 - to beat opponent Henry VanSingel, who had up to that point been a serving city council for many years.
Even before joining council, Fisher has consistently advocated for what she argues is the need to maintain a cleaner city.
Also, she, along with some fellow local merchants, have advocated for public bathrooms on the south side of downtown (e.g., Butler Street) for the benefit of tourist and visitors. She writes about her experiences in a public online blog, called mytownfromtheinsideout.blogspot.com.
Fisher’s more serious charges stem from an August 2012 meeting she arranged in which Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, then-Saugatuck Mayor Pro-Tem Bill Hess (now serving as mayor) and then Saugatuck Mayor Jane Verplank participated in.
The meeting was called to talk about a petition Fisher had circulated addressing her concerns that there is a need to fix “the dirty condition” of the city.
“Since August of 2012, what happened in this closed door meeting was my word against the three of theirs. Until now,” she writes in her December 15, 2013 blog entry.
“This was not a meeting to work on a solution, but rather a meeting to intimidate me so that I would not present my petition. There was no attempt at dialogue throughout this entire meeting. They asked questions and I answered as best as I could.”
She continues, “At one point Mayor Jane Verplank screamed at me, ‘It isn’t my job to clean this town,’ and at another point when the conversation regarding the city’s purchase of new furniture came up, City Manager Kirk Harrier suddenly stood up from behind his desk, leaned around and into my face and yelled, ‘You wanna see that old furniture upstairs?’’ while at the same time swinging his arm up into the air in order to point to the ceiling.
“Kirk Harrier was so close to my face and approached me with such aggression that I thought for a moment that his intention was to hit me,” wrote Fisher.Harrier responded, saying, “That is a downright lie. It’s a disgusting lie. It never transpired. I don’t use, nor have I used aggression in my interaction with people.”
He continued, “If there is a serious complaint about any public official, anyone can avail themselves of a proper and formal process, including going to other council members, county officials or the police. It does no good to just simply cry wolf in the public sphere a year after something occurred.”
Harrier also points out that Fisher made the city waste $75 when she agreed - then failed to attend - a specialized Michigan Municipal League training course in the City of Holland.
The training was meant for those individuals serving in local government for the first time.
“The city does everything it can to welcome and help its officials, providing the best training available,” he said.
He further notes that he has numerous times responded to many of Fisher’s inquiries and concerns, including a recent one relative to her concern the city does not have enough trash receptacles.
Harrier said he conducted an inventory, then created a map which he provided to her.
“I feel we have adequate (trash receptacle) coverage,” he said, adding that the city’s Department of Public Works leaves out less trash receptacles during the off season precisely because they become a liability issue during winter storms.
“I have not heard any feedback from her (Fisher) since (providing the trash receptacle inventory map to her),” said Harrier.
Verplank and Hess also responded by repudiating Fisher’s assertions. However, they said they wanted to limit there comments.
Asked if she ever shunned or bullied Fisher, Verplank said, “No.”
She continued, “I don’t’ care what she (Fisher) says about me. I am simply going to continue to do what I need to do in order for the the city to run as smooth as possible and provide great things for the community.”
On the issue about the cost of furniture brought up by Fisher, Verplank said, “It has been 30 years since we (the city) had gotten new furniture.
“Even more, we needed more storage for records and needed to become wheelchair and disabled compliant.”
And Hess noted, “It’s her opinion and her statement in a blog. The blog is not a formal complaint.”
In both speech and e-mails to The Local Observer, Fisher continues to assert what she describes in her blog is true and that her colleagues are trying to bully her into silence.