Wendy Wise-Fisher Resigns From Saugatuck City Council
The newest – and most controversial – member of Saugatuck City Council has reportedly decided to walk away from her elected position following a tumultuous short tenure.
Wise-Fisher, owner of With Our Hands Studio & Gallery in Saugatuck and a
member of the city council for only five months, had a message posted on her
blog called “My Town From The Inside Out” – and sent The Local Observer
newspaper an email - announcing her decision to quit the government post.
Dated March 22, Fisher’s blog posting stated:
“Thank you. I want to thank the Citizens of Saugatuck that voted for me and supported me during my five months on Saugatuck’s City Council. Unfortunately personal and business commitments prevent me from continuing. Sincerely, Wendy Wise Fisher”.
Saugatuck Mayor Bill Hess and Saugatuck City Clerk Monica Looman said they have not yet received any formal resignation letter from Fisher which is the proper action an elected official is expected to complete if they wish to resign their position.
Efforts to reach Fisher for comment have so far been unsuccessful.
Fisher’s reported resignation comes amid numerous public and private battles with her fellow colleagues on city council and Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, who she accused of threatening to physically assault her during a meeting last year.
Harrier denied that allegations and various council members – including two who were present at the meeting - and those that have dealt for years with the city manager, said they did not believe Fisher and that she was merely trying to stir up trouble and gain public sympathy by making the allegedly false allegations.
Fisher also has publicly stated during her short time on council that her fellow elected officials were making a concerted effort to shun and bully her because they did not like the fact she was bringing up important issues concerning the cleanliness of the city and financial issues that had allegedly been swept under the run.
The city officials that Saugatuck City Council Member Wendy Wise Fisher had accused deny any wrong doing and encouraged her to go through formal and proper channels to address any concerns she may have.
In the November 2013 election, Fisher received enough votes - 251 - to beat opponent Henry VanSingel, who had up to that point been serving on city council for many years.
The latest controversy Fisher found herself enmeshed in was when she sent all her council colleagues an email demanding an investigation into reports that some local homeowners were violating the law by having more than one property they owned receiving a homestead tax exemption.
Fisher made that allegation after receiving an anonymous email from someone accusing city officials of not doing their jobs and covering the problem up.
However, a subsequent investigation by city hall – following up on Fisher’s allegations from the anonymous source – found there was no such problem and that online computer records regarding the properties in question had just not been updated yet by the county.
“Based on the information Wendy provided, we found there was no problem,” said Harrier. “Anyone is free to look into this matter like we did; they’ll discover there is no problem.”
But some council members took umbrage at Fisher’s actions in connection with the anonymous complaint, saying she violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act by sending the email demanding an investigation to all her fellow officials.
Councilman Barry Johnson pointed out that state law prevents doing public business/or seeking governmental action without the public’s knowledge unless it has been discussed and voted on in a public governmental session.
A spokesman for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office backs up Johnson’s position, saying an initial review of what Fisher did could very well constitute a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act.
Even before joining council, Fisher consistently advocated for what she argues was the need to maintain a cleaner city.
Also, she, along with some fellow local merchants, had advocated for public bathrooms on the south side of downtown (e.g., Butler Street) for the benefit of tourist and visitors.
Fisher often writes about her experiences in a public online blog, called mytownfromtheinsideout. Blogspot.com.
Fisher’s more serious charges stem from an August 2012 meeting she arranged in which Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, then-Saugatuck Mayor Pro- Tem Bill Hess (now serving as mayor) and then Saugatuck Mayor Jane Verplank participated in.
The meeting was called to talk about a petition Fisher had circulated addressing her concerns that there is a need to fix “the dirty condition” of the city.
“Since August of 2012, what happened in this closed door meeting was my word against the three of theirs. Until now,” she writes in her December 15, 2013 blog entry.
“This was not a meeting to work on a solution, but rather a meeting to intimidate me so that I would not present my petition. There was no attempt at dialogue throughout this entire meeting. They asked questions and I answered as best as I could.”
She continues, “At one point Mayor Jane Verplank screamed at me, ‘It isn’t my job to clean this town,’ and at another point when the conversation regarding the city’s purchase of new furniture came up, City Manager Kirk Harrier suddenly stood up from behind his desk, leaned around and into my face and yelled, ‘You wanna see that old furniture upstairs?’’ while at the same time swinging his arm up into the air in order to point to the ceiling.
“Kirk Harrier was so close to my face and approached me with such aggression that I thought for a moment that his intention was to hit me,” wrote Fisher.
Harrier responded, saying, “That is a downright lie. It’s a disgusting lie. It never transpired. I don’t use, nor have I used aggression in my interaction with people.”
He continued, “If there is a serious complaint about any public official, anyone can avail themselves of a proper and formal process, including going to other council members, county officials or the police. It does no good to just simply cry wolf in the public sphere a year after something occurred.”
Harrier also points out that Fisher made the city waste $75 when she agreed - then failed to attend - a specialized Michigan Municipal League training course in the City of Holland.
The training was meant for those individuals serving in local government for the first time.
“The city does everything it can to welcome and help its officials, providing the best training available,” he said.
He further notes that he has numerous times responded to many of Fisher’s inquiries and concerns, including a recent one relative to her concern the city does not have enough trash receptacles.
Harrier said he conducted an inventory, then created a map which he provided to her.
“I feel we have adequate (trash receptacle) coverage,” he said, adding that the city’s Department of Public Works leaves out less trash receptacles during the off season precisely because they become a liability issue during winter storms.
“I have not heard any feedback from her (Fisher) since (providing the trash receptacle inventory map to her),” said Harrier.
Verplank and Hess also responded by repudiating Fisher’s assertions. However, they said they wanted to limit their comments.
Asked if she ever shunned or bullied Fisher, Verplank said, “No.”
She continued, “I don’t care what she (Fisher) says about me. I am simply going to continue to do what I need to do in order for the city to run as smoothly as possible and provide great things for the community.”
On the issue about the cost of furniture brought up by Fisher, Verplank said, “It has been 30 years since we (the city) had gotten new furniture.
“Even more, we needed more storage for records and needed to become wheelchair and disabled compliant.”
And Hess noted, “It’s her opinion and her statement in a blog. The blog is not a formal complaint.”
In both speech and e-mails to The Local Observer, Fisher continues to assert that what she describes in her blog is true, and that her now-former colleagues were trying to bully her into silence.