Saugatuck Township Officials Facing Recall In November Have To Publicly Disclose Anonymous Contributors, Their Addresses, Amounts & Dates Donated To An Online T-Shirt Fundraising Site Set Up By Them
Saugatuck Township Board officials facing a recall in the upcoming November 2018 elections started then quickly stopped an online t-shirt fundraising campaign to help finance an effort to keep their jobs after the effort was reported in The Local Observer in its June 22 issue.
Formed on June 1, the Saugatuck Township Board Re-election Committee is registered with the Michigan Department of State’s Bureau of Elections in accordance with state campaign finance law requirements.
Facing recall are Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich, Treasurer Lori Babinski and board members Roy McIlwaine and Doug Lane.
Bureau of Elections’ documents show Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich is the treasurer of the group and names him as the designated record keeper.
Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan began sending out email solicitations for the t-shirt fundraising campaign to people on June 8, but the campaign was halted only shortly after with only a few donors publicly identified.
One of those donors was identified as Jeanne Van Zoeren, president of a South Haven-based bike path enthusiasts’ group called Friends of the Blue Star, an organization that has and is lobbying local governments along the Blue Star Highway from South Haven to Saugatuck Township to build a contiguous bike trail.
That ongoing effort has generated public controversy over various issues, including cost of the path; future maintance cost of the path to be paid by taxpayers estimated in the millions of dollars; promises by the group to pay for most of the bike path’s costs even though the organization doesn’t have enough money to do so; lack of communication about the effort and costs to township taxpayers, etc.
Saugatuck Township has gone ahead and begun building its bike path in conjunction with the Friends of the Blue Star group led by Van Zoeren, who has been openly supportive of the four Saugatuck Township officials who face recall: Rudich, Babinski, McIlwaine and Lane.
The Saugatuck Township officials’ online fundraising site only identified a few donors for the t-shirts, yet three of those donors were identified as “anonymous.”
Now, under the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, the Saugatuck Township Board Re-election Committee must publicly disclose the name, address, date and amount of contributions for those individuals who have made anonymous donations through the township officials’ online t-shirt sale to raise funds to try and keep their jobs.
That information about all donors to the committee - plus other mandated information - is required to be filed by July 20th with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office Bureau of Elections.
The Michigan Campaign Finance Act - in a section entitled “Prohibited Activity” - states, in part:
* Anonymous contributions in any amount are prohibited. The name and address of the contributor must be provided to the committee.
* The individual making the contribution must be identified. Making contributions in the name of another person is prohibited.
The Saugatuck Township Board members online fundraising effort - set up through a company called Custom Ink - only ran a short time and was closed after The Local Observer reported on the Saugatuck Township Board member’s new fundraising webpage selling t-shirts.
Those t-shirts included lettering on the front which reads:
“Don’t Give Up The Township”.
Controversial Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan - who is an appointed - not an elected - township employee who serves at the pleasure of the board - sent out a June 8 email solicitation seeking supporters to buy a t-shirt to raise funds for the group to be used, in part, to fight the recall effort.
Proponents of the group wanting to sweep Rudich, Babinski, McIlwaine and Lane out of office after the November recall election say they also want a newly elected board to fire Sheridan for his past “anger-filled, unprofessional and questionable ethics” as township manager.
Rudich, Sheridan, McIlwaine and others have falsely made public statements that The Local Observer is part of and behind the group of recall proponents looking to oust them from office.
The Local Observer has covered the news story and has neither joined the proponents group nor has any employee of the newspaper been asked to join in that effort.
The group which initiated the recall - spearheaded by township residents Kathy Sturm and Cindy Osman - have cited numerous reasons for recalling the township board members, including, among others: egregious lack of transparency (i.e. omitting items from the township agenda or last-minute additions to agendas so the public doesn’t know what public business is being transacted; not wanting to video record meetings); inconsistent and biased application of zoning ordinances; approving an amendment of the International Fire Code exposing firefighters and residents alike to danger; allowing Sheridan to continue to serve as township manager despite Sheridan’s behavioral pattern of petulance, anger and aggressiveness (i.e. dropping the F-bomb during professional meetings and in public against colleagues and others; Sheridan’s secret tape recording of meetings with other government officials; Sheridan’s public and official reprimand - but not firing - over his repeated anger issues and the board’s order he undergo anger management therapy; and more.
The Nov. 6 election ballot will have the following candidates challenging those being recalled: Jon Helmrich vying for treasurer against Babinski; Bill Wester, a long-time previous board member, vying for clerk against Rudich; Abby Bigford running against McIllwaine; and Stacy Aldrich looking to replace Lane.
Township officials were asked by The Local Observer to respond to questions about accepting anonymous donations and/or not publicly displaying the names of those individuals on their fundraising web page, and what other fundraising efforts are under way or are being planned in the coming months.
Asked about the fundraiser and how much it raised, Saugatuck Township Clerk Rudich said: “On the amount raised, I don’t know the amount until the online t-shirt sales company we used finishes the sales on that.”
Rudich made that comment Monday despite the fact the online fundraising site has posted a notice that the township officials’ t-shirt fundraising campaign was over.
Asked about who the anonymous donors were, Rudich said, “That is why they are anonymous donors; they want to remain anonymous.”
Rudich did not say why his committee allowed some donors to be anonymous on the fundraising website when Michigan campaign finance laws require them to be identified in mandated filings with the state.
Asked if he or his fellow township officials were using public resources on this campaign, Rudich replied “Absolutely not.”