March 28, 2012 - The current salary for Independence Township is just below $80,000 plus benefits. Trustee David Lohmeier would like to lower the salary for the next supervisor to $25,000 with no benefits.
Resident Fred Ritter addresses the Independence Township board. Photo by Trevor Keiser (click for larger version)
The board postponed a vote on the issue at the March 20 meeting to hopefully hear more opinions from the public at the April 3 meeting.
Reasoning for the proposal said Lohmeier was because board does not have the ability to lower elected official's salary unless the elected official agrees to it. Since the board diminished the major responsibilities of current Supervisor Dave Wagner, who has been on sick leave since early last year and Deputy Supervisor Michael Clark and gave those to appointed Superintendent Bart Clark, the duties of the supervisor are fundamentally to chair the meetings.
"I am very, very proud of our appointment of Bart Clark," Lohmeier said. "I'm proud of the work he has done, I'm proud of the township employees have done to try and step up in the absence of someone in the supervisor's role."
Lowering the salary, he said allows the next board flexibility to decide if they should continue on with a superintendent or get rid of him and increase the supervisor's salary.
"I think we need to give the next board every opportunity to succeed," Lohmeier said. "I think handing them a position that has very, very few responsibilities at an extraordinary high rate of pay doesn't really give them that kind of flexibility."
He also added the proposal does not affect the current supervisor's salary or benefits.
Audience member and Former Township Treasurer Fred Ritter, who served on the board between 1974-1984 said he recognizes things have changed since he was on the board, but he was afraid the current proposal would preclude a number of qualified candidates who could be full-time elected supervisor with full management skills. He urged the board to "think it through."
"I think there is a deep assumption here that is what is in place right now, which to me is a stop gap measure because of pretty extenuating circumstances is not going to be a fundamental change in the way we govern," he said. "I think it's a big deal, it's a big decision and if you're going to change your level of government the public needs to be engaged in the conversation."
Resident Jane Boyer agreed.
"I think if you do diminish the supervisor to part-time and at a lower rate of pay, you're diminishing the way we govern also," Boyer said. "I'm not sure we can afford to do that."
Director of Public Works Linda Richardson said she's worked through six supervisors and she has seen "some very qualified supervisors and not so qualified," who were dedicated to the job, but she's also seen some not so qualified. She believe Clark has brought some stability to the township and taken a burden off the department heads.
"If we had a supervisor was as meticulous as Mr. Clark then I would say they would deserve the whole salary, but there is no qualification to be a supervisor of a township," Richardson said. "Since you can't pick qualifications in elected officials, I think Mr. Clark is probably our best bet."
Trustee Larry Rosso believes the board made the right decision when they appointed Clark as Superintendent and that is brought professionalism that was "lacking in a supervisor's position," but he wasn't prepared to vote on it.
"This is good food for thought and good to debate this, but I think this should be given a little more notice and more people should weigh in at another board meeting," he said. "It should be a discussion because there may be people who are reluctant to run for supervisor if they know it is going be a part-time position as part-time pay."
After quite a bit of thought Clerk Barbara Pallotta believes it would be "opening a can of worms."
"Right now we have ideal circumstances. We have an unavailable supervisor and an awesome superintendent. If we did something like this we would have a part-time supervisor, part-time or full-time superintendent, one with the vote and one with all the work," she said. "If that's not an accident waiting to happen, I don't know what is."
Pallotta said it would only work if both the supervisor and superintendent agreed on it philosophically. Otherwise it would just cause tension.
"I can tell you unequivocally it depends on the people in the position, whether a structure like this would work," she added.
Treasurer Curt Carson agreed.
"Whether we have a supervisor or a manager they're only as good as the person who's in there. If you have a good person in there that's what you get," he said. "You can pick a bad superintendent too."
He also noted the township has functioned with a supervisor, treasurer, clerk, and four trustees for almost 170 years.
"If we make a move like this now, we are basically as a board nearing an end of it's term making the decision that we're changing the form of government. I think that is a slap in the face to the voters and the people of this township," he said. "They need to be able to make that decision."
Carson believe candidates should make it known what their stance is as it relates to a part-time supervisor.
Trustee Neil Wallace said they "don't encourage good people to run when they running for a salary."
"We're recognizing the current situation that we're in a noble experiment that we've handled nobly and it's gone very well," he said. "We should give next board opportunity to continue that."
"I think we want to empower the next board as much as possible. I don't think you sit back and say 'unless the people tell us to change the government structure we're not going to mess with it,' he said. "We already did. We hired a superintendent, we hired a permanent one and it's worked out fantastically."
The board voted 3-2 to postpone voting at the next meeting to hear more from the public on the issue. Carson and Pallotta voted "no." Trustee Mark Petterson was absent.
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.