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March 22, 2019 12:04 am

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Saugatuck Township Officials Retaliating Against Fire Officials Over Myriad Political Problems, Say Critics

In what critics say is just another example of how some Saugatuck Township Board members are continuing to retaliate against the local fire department, the township board at its June 6 meeting said it would submit a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the Saugatuck Township Fire District to request an itemized page showing all full-time and part-time firefighters salaries.

At the meeting, Saugatuck Township Trustee Roy McIlwaine explicitly accused the Saugatuck Township Fire Board of “not being transparent” and “stonewalling” the township in the township’s efforts to get information related to the fire department’s budget.

“Three and a half weeks ago, I provided that information (all full and part-time firefighters’ wages as well as the wages of fire board members for the last three years) to the township,” Saugatuck Township Fire District Treasurer Peter Stanislawski told The Local Observer on Wednesday about information requests from Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan and Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich.

Stanislawski, also treasurer for the City of Saugatuck, confirmed to the newspaper he had not yet received the FOIA request the township discussed at its June 6 township board meeting.

However, he confirmed he has received previous requests, including a FOIA request, from the township for the same information, which, again, he said, he has already provided.

Also, there have been additional information requests by township officials that he and the fire board have questioned whether they are even valid or legal.

This is information fire districts officials have refused to answer, including information about firefighters’ other employment aside from working for the fire department.

For example, the May 15, 2018 request-for-information letter from Rudich to fire board representatives, reads, in part, “Please list all other employment of the full-time and part-time employees of the District.”

Saugatuck Township Fire District Board Chair Jane Verplank spoke to The Local Observer about the fire budget, noting, “They (Saugatuck Township officials) really don’t set the budget nor understand the nature of the budget—it is meant for the township to weigh in on the millage more than anything else, not on how we (the fire board) budget things or how we spend the money. I mean, this is what is so funny about this ordeal (the FOIAs and information request on the part of the township).

At the June 6 meeting, McIIwaine said although the township board had approved the 2018-2019 fire budget at a special meeting on May 30 (it had previously tabled it, questioning the fire board’s recommendation for a five percent salary increase for the fire chief), the fire board had failed to provide adequate information related to salaries on the budget.

“As a public entity, I feel strongly that, as any other public entity funded by taxpayers, salaries need to be broken out and displayed. So far we have been stonewalled (by fire board representatives),” said McIlwaine.

“I’d like to get the board’s support to do a FOIA. Apparently, that is our next step. I think we need to go back at least a couple years. This is not a personal crusade, it’s just good governance to have that breakdown.”

The board did give McIIwaine that support.

Be that as it may, that information was provided to the township even before the May 30 meeting, as Stanislawski’s emails have confirmed as well as the recorded meeting of May 21 where the fire board presents that very information to the township representatives on the fire board: Eric Beckman and Saugatuck Township Supervisor Chris Roerig.

The accusation of “stonewalling” and the prospective FOIA request comes on the heels of township board members previously withholding approval of the fire district’s 2018/2019 budget—even after the other constituent members, the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas, had already approved it without any concerns—on grounds they needed more information about the fire board’s recommendation to give Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief Greg Janik a five percent salary increase.

Janik currently makes $70,000 a year and a 5 percent increase would raise the figure to $73,500.

To appease the township, the fire board reps said they are willing to move forward in approving the budget (constituent members approve the budget first before final approval by the fire board) without the increase to Janik’s salary.

However, they do warn that they could later modify the budget, perhaps even approving to compensate Janik for on-call work, which will end up paying Janik more money than the recommended five percent increase.

Critics of the Saugatuck Township Board’s actions say the township officials are being disingenuous and are retaliating against the fire department and Fire Board because of an ongoing effort to keep the fire department out of the decision process when it comes to developers and related fire-safety issues.

Also, critics say four of five township board members facing a recall vote in November blame fire officials for a lot of their political problems.

Saugatuck Township Officials Retaliating Against Fire Officials Over Myriad Political Problems, Say Critics

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