Questionable Conduct By Saugatuck Township Officials Bring Condemnation, Criticism & Questions From Local Government Leaders; Township Supervisor Calls Aug. 16 Special Meeting To Discuss Manager Aaron Sheridan's Actions
Douglas city officials reported at Monday’s council
meeting they don’t yet know what the aftermath will be of their
Saugatuck Township counterpart’s recent vote to modify the area’s fire
code and the fire department’s cost recovery procedures, but they are
certain it is not a good thing.
Douglas city leaders also expressed concern and anger and questioned the legality of Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan’s actions when he recently surreptitiously recorded an administrative meeting without the consent or knowledge of others in attendance, including Saugatuck, Douglas and fire department officials.
Expressing disdain over what several attending government officials called Sheridan’s “unethical, juvenile, unprofessional and despicable” actions were constituent members of the local fire department district, along with the city managers and zoning administrators of the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas.
That administrative meeting where Sheridan secretly tape recorded his fellow officials took place Monday, July 31, only a couple of days before last Wednesday’s township vote to push through those fire code and cost-recovery ordinance changes.
Saugatuck Township Fire District’s cost-recovery program is meant to recoup incurred costs from residents who have fire or other emergency situations due to their violations of the International Fire Code, the national standard for fire prevention and safety adopted by local governments across the country, including Saugatuck Township, Douglas and Saugatuck.
Sheridan’s actions—including the secret tape-recording incident and other issues—has caused an uproar even among township officials themselves to such a degree that it has lead Saugatuck Township Supervisor Jonathan Phillips to call a special meeting for Wednesday, August 16 at 6 p.m. to discuss Sheridan’s questionable actions and his ability to continue on as Saugatuck Township manager.
In an attempt to minimize his questionable actions, Sheridan said he engaged in the secret tape recording of his fellow government officials “only to defend myself from past false and unattributed claims made against me in another newspaper,” referring to The Local Observer.
However, no newspaper reporter, either from The Local Observer or any other newspaper, was in attendance at that meeting, so it is unclear how or why he secretly tape-recorded his peers to “defend” himself.
And any past reporting on Sheridan’s unprofessional actions during the past several months by The Local Observer have been publicly verified and confirmed by other government officials who shared first-hand accounts of his “deplorable” behavior and responses involving officials and members of the public.
“Local government leaders and the public are getting sick and tired of the unprofessional antics of Aaron Sheridan,’” said Local Observer Editor Mike Gallagher.
“It’s also time for Mr. Sheridan to pull up his big boy pants and take responsibility for his own questionable behavior instead of always blaming others, including the local media. His actions speak for themselves.
“Saugatuck Township Supervisor Jon Phillips should be commended for taking a stand and bringing Mr. Sheridan’s unprofessional conduct and inepitude to the forefront at the upcoming (Aug. 16 at 6 p.m.) special meeting at Saugatuck Township Hall. The public should demand full public disclosure of everything Mr. Sheridan has been doing and they can judge for themselves the appropriateness of all his actions,” added Gallagher.
In a new development that has also sparked outrage among Saugatuck, Douglas and fire department officials, was the revelation Wednesday made by Sheridan that Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich and Township Treasurer Lori Babinski approved of his secretly taping the other governments’ officials.
Sheridan said Saugatuck Township Trustee Doug Lane also approved of his secret taping even though he only learned of it after the fact.
Phillips said he was stunned and appalled at Sheridan’s actions.
“This is all reprehensible,” said Fire Chief Greg Janik. “Their (Sheridan, Rudich, Babinski and Lane’s) actions are just despicable and unethical.”
Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier said he no longer trusts Sheridan and will only work through others when it comes to inter-governmental business.
In a related action, at one point during last Wednesday’s township meeting’s fire code amendment discussion, Phillips had to publicly admonish Sheridan from continuing to berate Saugatuck City Zoning Administrator Cindy Osman.
Sheridan was visibly upset and apparently angered that Osman spoke out of turn—she made a quick interjection outside of the public comment section of the agenda.
Osman also spoke during the public comment section though, highly critical of the township’s fire procedural changes, which the township voted to approve in a 3-to-2 vote with Rudich, Babinkski and Lane voting yes and Trustees Roy McIlwaine and Phillips voting no.
“The amendments do three things,” Osman said in
her appeal to the township board to not make changes, “One, it takes the
power away for the fire chief (Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief
Greg Janik) to issue a stop-work order (against a developer or a builder
for determined fire code violations) and it requires him to get
permission from the township zoning administrator (Saugatuck Township
Zoning Administrator Steve Kushion).
“Also, as a zoning administrator (with 30-plus years of experience), I don’t feel that I have the expertise, the qualification and the experience to review those kind of invoices (fire code violations, extraordinary cases, etc.) In effect, this (code changes) is a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Douglas City Manager Bill LeFevere reiterated those concerns Monday, explaining to council that he had posed the following question to Sheridan during the administrative meeting: “Where does the zoning administrator get the authority to issue a stop-work order under the fire code (if, indeed, a stop-work is merited)? He (Sheridan) was simply unable to answer me; he talked a lot around the issue. It is really frustrating for everyone.”
As for Sheridan’s choice to secretly tape record the government officials, LeFevere told his council, “I believe that it is flat out illegal. I am not planning any action. The irony of it is if he had asked everybody, everybody would have been okay with it. It was a stupid thing to do.”
Sheridan and Saugatuck Township Clerk Rudich, who spearheaded the fire procedural amendments, have not responded to The Local Observer’s request for comment on Sheridan’s surreptitious recording.
Following last Wednesday’s change, the township now deviates from the other constituent members of the fire district (Saugatuck & Douglas) when it comes to cost recovery and certain fire code regulations; previously all members of the district shared the exact same cost-recovery policy and fire code.
Rudich and Sheridan’s only public explanation for why they decided to pursue these fire department-related ordinance changes is that they got some complaints from developers that fire officials were costing them money by forcing them to adhere to the fire code requirements when it comes to installing certain fire safety equipment in new homes and businesses.
For example, they say, fire officials are forcing them to build larger driveways to allow fire vehicles needed access, etc.
However, fire marshals across the country - including Michigan - say that builders and developers don’t like to be challenged by what they deem as unnecessary impediments put up by fire departments and the International Fire Code, and it is not uncommon to see them fight it as hard as they can.
Local Fire Chief Janik has repeatedly called the township’s efforts to change the district’s International Fire Code - which have been in place for decades - “a serious safety threat to the public, business owners and my firefighters.”