Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich Tries To Slip Through Reimbursement For Township Manager Aaron Sheridan's $270 Payment For Newspaper Ad Praising Township Officials
In an apparent move to sneak through a reimbursement payment to Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan for a self-serving advertisement lavishing praise on his government bosses that Sheridan personally created and paid to have published in The Commercial Record, township officials inserted the payment in their monthly listing of bills to be paid which required a vote at last week’s board meeting.
But when members of the public and The Local Observer found the $270 payment in the public records prior to the township board meeting and began asking questions, the payment was quickly pulled from the list of bills to be paid for with taxpayers’ money.
After the highly questionable plan was discovered to reimburse Sheridan for the cost of his public puff piece praising his township board bosses for all their great work in the midst of an ongoing recall effort to remove those officials from office for myriad legal and ethical issues, Saugatuck Township officials modified last Wednesday’s financial report and removed the $270 reimbursement from accounts payable before a vote to approve the township’s monthly bills.
The Feb. 15 paid advertisement in The Commercial Record ran with a headline that stated: “An Open Letter to the Saugatuck Township Board,” and is a glowing review of township board actions, particularly praising the board for its fiscal responsibility.
The advertisement was not of a legal nature (for example, a required notice of a public hearing, the passing of an ordinance, etc.) nor was it written or published to present to the public township business that was discussed or approved by the Saugatuck Township Board.
The advertisement, which explicitly states it was paid for by Sheridan, strikes some as suspect given that four of five township officials are facing recall in the November 6 general election.
In an email to township officials, The Local Observer asked officials the following questions, among others:
“In light of four of five board members currently facing recall and Sheridan possibly being discharged from his post as a result (if members are recalled, the new board may decide to let him go), do you not worry that an advertisement that gives a glowing review of the board’s actions may be perceived as trying to divert attention from what some see in the public as serious failings in the way the township is operated?
“Do you, as a board member and representatives of township taxpayers, have any qualms about using taxpayers’ money to pay for an advertisement that was published for public consumption that explicitly showed it was paid for by Sheridan without publicly discussing it first?”
The only township official that wanted to speak to the paper about the issue was Saugatuck Township Supervisor Jon Phillips.
Phillips is also the only township board member who is not the target of a recall effort by township residents.
“It (the advertisement and the planned reimbursement for the advertisement) was never discussed with me and I think the board should have been informed about it and we should have discussed it before Wednesday’s meeting. I never knew about it,” said Phillips.
He also spoke about what was apparently a unilateral move on the part of Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich to put the reimbursement on the original accounts payable records.
“He (Rudich) did it on his own. I don’t know why he feels he has that kind of authority (to reimburse those serving public office for what was publicly and explicitly expressed as having been a private matter).
“Also, the fact that he changed the financial report after hearing from the public says a lot,” said Phillips.
On March 2, Saugatuck Township officials sent out their agenda for its March 7 meeting with an invoice report showing the $270 reimbursement to Sheridan. On March 5, following a public inquiry about the reimbursement, the agenda was modified and the $270 planned payment to Sheridan was removed from the financial report.
Not only was the $270 removed from the original agenda, but all traces showing that original $270 reimbursement have been erased, as the email link with the original agenda links to a blank page. This possibly points to township officials attempting to hide and cover the reimbursement from the eyes of the public.
At last Wednesday’s meeting on March 7, Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich attempted to justify the planned reimbursement, noting “Aaron (Sheridan) was not looking for reimbursement on an item he sent to The Commercial Record, but I felt he did it in support of the township board to update the public so I took it on myself to ask if the board would approve that for an invoice.
“Aaron said he wanted to withdraw any ask for reimbursement so I revised the accounts payable,” Brad Rudich told the public at last Wednesday’s meeting.
The Local Observer called Sheridan about the issue before Wednesday’s board meeting, but he denied comment and quickly hung up the phone. However, Sheridan changed his tone at the meeting following township resident Kathy Sturm’s (one of the recall petitioners) public comment about it at the meeting.
“I never had any kind of expectation to receive any kind of payment for my paid advertisement at any time. There was no request made on my behalf from Brad (Rudich) or any expectation at all at any time from the board for the publication,” said Sheridan.
“I would prefer after this, it still not be considered,” added Sheridan who did not address that, as township manager, whether he saw or reviewed the accounts payable records that included his proposed reimbursement.
Sheridan could lose his job if new board members get elected in the recall effort scheduled for November’s election and decide to dismiss him.
One big issue for petitioners and supporters in their recall initiative is the fact that the township board voted not to fire Sheridan last year - only reprimanded him - for repeatedly displaying behavior unbecoming of a township manager, i.e., verbally assaulting members of the public, swearing at and threatening Township Supervisor Phillips, lying to fellow government leaders on myriad issues, using offensive language and displaying an arrogant attitude towards colleagues, fire department personnel and other area municipal officials, and more.
When the township board voted last year to only reprimand Sheridan for his questionable behavior and actions - Phillips was the only board official who called for his firing - they also required Sheridan to take anger management classes.
To date, neither township officials nor Sheridan have refused to confirm or deny whether he has actually taken those courses to change his abhorent behavior.