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August 22, 2012 - Independence Township's Building Department and the role of its director, David Belcher, may change significantly after the board deliberates on August 28.

Since 2009 when Supervisor Dave Wagner gave Belcher a $3,000 bonus without board approval, the Building Department and its director have been through many ups and downs.

The end of Belcher's one-year probationary period, which expired on July 18, was marked by performance reviews by both Clerk Barb Pallotta and Superintendent Bart Clark.

In her evaluation of his performance, Pallotta reported, "Mr. Belcher struggles in his role as a department director in that he is unable to demonstrate leadership and management skills when presented with decision making issues and operational expectations."

Despite her feelings about his performance as a director, Pallotta pointed out Belcher is "passionate" and takes "personal pride" in his role as a building inspector.

Her report was also critical of the work he oversaw when the library's heating, venting, and air conditioning system was installed in 2006.

Pallotta's report stated, Belcher "did not provide the appropriate oversight needed for the proper installation of this equipment on one of the Township's own buildings. No permits were pulled and no inspections were made resulting in having to now unnecessarily spend additional taxpayer dollars for repairs."

She added, "water leakage into the building from the roof is directly related to the improper installation of the system."

Clarkston resident Cory Johnston, who spoke during the evaluation, voiced his concern about Belcher's work.

"I've read the state report [completed January 2012]. There were serious items that affected the health, safety, and welfare of people using the buildings in this township. Something should be done," he said.

Superintendent Clark said Belcher had a lack of familiarity with township ordinances, employee management, planning ahead, and public speaking. On the other hand, Clark reported on Belcher's strengths, which included his experience and knowledge of the township. Clark also noted that Belcher kept the department within its budget and was willing to accept criticism and work hard to correct shortcomings.

Clark ultimately recommended that Belcher stay on as head of the Building Department with additional training. Joan McCrary of the Planning Commission agreed with Clark's assessment.

"I feel that the board should take Mr. Clark's recommendations," she said.

Other community members shared their support for Belcher too.

Jim Elma described Belcher as "a great building inspector" who was "always prompt" when he worked with him. Robertson Brothers President Jim Clark said, "Mr. Belcher is not afraid to say no or to hold us accountable."

Belcher, who chose to have his performance evaluation done in an open session, had an opportunity to speak as well. "I have worked for the township for 13 years, and took over the building department in 2004," he said. "We've issued 11,000 permits and generated $3.2 million in revenues."

It isn't only Belcher's future as director that will be discussed at the next board meeting, but the future of the Building Department too. The board considered outsourcing the department to save money in 2009 after the economic downturn. Today, the Building Department has three employees, one of which is David Belcher.

Superintendent Clark suggested the department needed additional staff and clerical support. "In late 2011 and 2012, we're starting to see a substantial increase in building activity. . . as a consequence, the workload for [the building department's] three employees is very, very high. The pressure is quite intense in that organization. Those two factors increase the chance of human error and make the job of managing that department much more difficult," Clark said.

"We have so much to develop here," Clerk Pallotta said. She feels investing in the building department would be a better choice than privatization.

However, "maybe it is not a decision this board should make," she said.

If the board postpones a decision on the Building Department's future, the choice of what to do with it will be left to the next board elected.

The board's next meeting will take place on August 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Township Hall.

Clarkston News reporter
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