Saugatuck Township Officials Criticized For "Unethical Conduct" In Questioning Township Residents At Township Hall About Why They Signed Recall Petition To Remove Them From Office; Residents Say They Felt Intimidated By Officials
Following last month’s Saugatuck Township Board Trustee Roy McIIwaine’s venting and public accusations against The Local Observer of using “anonymous sources,” “misquotes,” and propagating “misinformation,” the latest regularly scheduled meeting witnessed residents and fire department personnel strongly responding to—and being highly critical of—the township board’s own actions and words.
McIlwaine is one of four Saugatuck Township trustees facing a recall vote in November by community residents fed up with what they say are the questionable actions, ethics and handling of township residents’ tax dollars and myriad controversial issues that have exploded over the past year.
Those facing recall are Clerk Brad Rudich, Treasurer Lori Babinski and Trustees Doug Lane and McIlwaine.
The township electorate will be given the opportunity to either recall those officials or select new candidates to replace them in public office. Four township residents have tossed their hats in the ring to replace the current officials.
In a heated township board meeting last week, local couple Leslie and Ross Such publicly confronted the trustees, asserting their constitutional rights were violated when township officials harassed them for signing the recall petition.
Ross also asked the board to make information about Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan’s anger management classes transparent and publicly accessible.
The township board months back, via a motion and a vote, charged the embattled manager with “insubordination” and ordered him to take anger management classes following episodes of Sheridan dropping the F-bomb during meetings with former township supervisor Jon Phillips and fire district personnel and his actions dealing with the public and other government officials over various issues.
Leslie told the board she was recently unable to pick up her tax information at township hall because she was belligerently confronted by township staff; she asked her husband to help in the effort and he went in afterward.
“I thought we lived in a free country that we didn’t have to give a reason as to why we vote, who we pick, who we select,” commented husband Ross Such before the board.
“I too (as my wife Leslie) came to the township hall to pick up tax information. Lori (Babinski) was kind enough to get it for me and she held it, and then she said, ‘I have to ask you a question: Why did you sign the petition?
“So she held this (tax information) hostage, and I said, ‘I just want the information, thank you. Is the supervisor here?’ ‘No.’ ‘Could I get his number?’ ‘Well, he is not here right now.’ I said, ‘That is not what I asked for, I asked for his phone number.’ She gave me his (Phillips) number and I called him and told him what happened.”
Ross continued, “I talked to a state representative about this. I talked to two lawyers and they said it is not against the law. But it is extremely unethical for a member to ask that question, especially if they are being recalled.
“Now I wonder if I ask for something from the township, they are going to look at that and go, ‘Oh, this is that guy that got up in front of us and embarrassed us because we did something that was unethical.’
“By not being transparent, you are setting yourself up for failure. And I really do not appreciate her (wife Leslie) being hassled or myself. I don’t think it is within your (rights) to be able to do those things; to question one of your constituents for their selection for a vote. When we vote for other things, do you guys get access to that as well? I didn’t think so! Thank you.”
During board comments, Babinski responded to Leslie and Ross, noting, “I never intended to demean her (Leslie), harass her. When she called me, I got my signatures two days before and I reached out to her, I thought I could. I seriously didn’t mean to harass her.”
Similarly, Saugatuck Township Fire District personnel took issue with township officials, particularly their self-described “venting session,” (McIIwaine’s own words) that took place on March 7 in which officials attacked the press, the recall petitioners and fire department staff.
Saugatuck Township Fire District Deputy Chief Chris Mantels read aloud from a letter signed by most of those in the upper echelons of the department, highlighting Trustee Babinski’s public comment to Fire Chief Greg Janik at the March 7 meeting when she said:
“I am afraid that if I had a house fire right now, you would take the long way there.”
“We find this statement insulting and offensive to all Fire District personnel. Many would consider the ‘venting’ session the township trustees held at the 3/7/2018 meeting conduct unprofessional and unbecoming of elected officials, but we are primarily concerned with the one statement Trustee Babinski made regarding Fire District respond to a potential emergency at her home,” read Mantels, in part.
“As professional firefighters and emergency medical responders, it would be unethical, immoral, and a neglect of our legal duties to ‘take the long way’ while responding to emergencies.”
Babinski responded to the fire department personnel as well.
“For Greg, yeah, I was heartbroken and I still am. This disagreement over the IFC (International Fire Code) between the township and the fire district—I feel really hurt. And the night we amended the IFC when I walked out of here, Greg (Janik) was behind me and he said to me—right behind my back—he says, ‘You need to find yourself another fire chief,’
“I felt intimidated. So from this IFC amendment, I felt distant from the fire district.”