April 04, 2012 - David Lohmeier, Independence Township trustee, wants to lower the salary for the next supervisor from almost $80,000 with benefits to $25,000 with no benefits.
"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."
Treasurer Curt Carson said the decision should be handled during or after this year's election, in which the entire board is up for a vote.
"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."
According to township charter, the board can't lower an elected official's salary unless that official agrees to it. However, the board transferred most supervisor duties to other officials in the wake of current Supervisor Dave Wagner's yearlong sick leave.
The duties were passed to Deputy Supervisor Michael Clark and appointed Superintendent Bart Clark. All that's left is to chair meetings, Lohmeier said.
His proposal would not affect the current supervisor's salary or benefits, he said.
Fred Ritter, who served on the Township Board from 1974-1984, said things have changed, 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.
"Think it through," Ritter 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 Bart Clark brought stability to the township and taken a burden off the department heads.
"If we had a supervisor who 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 he brought professionalism that was lacking.
"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," Rosso 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 at part-time pay."
Clerk Barbara Pallotta said it would open 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 added it would only work if both the supervisor and superintendent agreed on it. 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 said.
"Whether we have a supervisor or a manager, they're only as good as the person who's in there," he said. "You can pick a bad superintendent, too."
Trustee Neil Wallace said salaries do not ensure good candidates.
"We're in a noble experiment that we've handled nobly and it's gone very well," he said. "We should give the 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, March 20, to postpone voting 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.