March 05, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Obviously unhappy with the service of the Orion Township Treasurer, Trustee Neil Porter offered a resolution on Monday night requesting Mark Thurber's resignation.
For about 30 minutes members of the board discussed the legalities of Porter's added agenda item. The request was eventually defeated in a 4-3 vote by the board.
Porter stated that Thurber was only in his office from 7:55 a.m. until 8:04 a.m. Friday, February 28, the last possible day Orion taxpayers could submit their tax payments before being penalized.
According to the General Property Tax Act 206 of 1893, which Porter based his claim on, Thurber committed a criminal offense in that he did not "remain in some convenient place in the township from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. to receive taxes" under section (b) of Act 206 requiring his presence "the last day that taxes are due and payable before being returned as delinquent under section 78a(2)," or February 28.
The Orion Township attorney explained that there are two points to make any criminal charge. The first is the factual basis of the evidence, and the second is the legal interpretation of those facts.
Because Thurber is an elected official, he cannot be fired. Orion Township residents would have to initiate a recall effort against him or vote for another person in the next election on November 20, 2016.
"The voters in Orion are not going anywhere except to the polls. This conduct is no longer just the problem of the treasurer, but to this township board," Porter said. "My colleagues who choose to ignore this conduct, sweep it under the carpet and give him another chance should resign. Am I the only one the citizens are complaining to?"
Porter continued that Thurber does not appear to have the time to be the elected treasurer, but maybe a deputy treasurer.
Previously Trustee Donni Steele wrote a letter to Thurber and delivered it to the rest of the board voicing her concerns that Thurber was not living up to his requirements as township treasurer, and should resign. Porter read the letter to the board making it a public record.
"I'm embarrassed for this board that we were obviously ambushed by this in the last minute," Thurber said. "I want you to all listen to this very carefully. I cannot tell you how embarrassed I am to have to disclose this to everyone. My mother was declared terminal with cancer and I ask for everybody's understanding that I have to take care of my family members," Thurber said.
"I spent this entire day hand-feeding her by her bedside. That's why I was not here Friday," Thurber said.
Thurber's previous poor attendance has been addressed since January 2013 by community members, along with financial reports deemed incomplete, or unsatisfactory by board members.
Thurber called the actions of his board members despicable and said he has been "assaulted" with letters and resolutions that are "crowded with lies and falsehoods."
"I know this has come up before, and I don't think this is the way to handle it to be honest," Trustee John Steimel said. "You (Thurber) put me in a pickle. These are some very serious allegations. I have some problems with them, I have some concerns. But this is not the way to do it," Steimel said.
The motion, seconded by Mike Flood, requested Thurber to resign, recognizing that would ultimately be up to him.
Clerk Penny Shults, Trustee Steimel, Thurber and Supervisor Chris Barnett voted against his resignation. Trustee Flood, Porter and Steele voted for it.
As a compromise, the board voted to require elected officials to officially sign in and sign out when entering and exiting their offices. The resolution passed.
Supervisor Barnett said the votes were uncomfortable and awkward.
"I have shared some of the same frustrations and I am here every day. Not to kick a man when he's down, but it is what it is. I'm not talking about the last couple weeks, I'm talking about in general," Barnett said.
"I'm very sorry about your mom. We have all been through this," Orion Township resident Mary McMaster said. "But I first addressed this way back when you first were elected to office within a couple of months, and I could see the frustration of some of our board members here.
"It's not just something that happened yesterday, and it's kind of a shame under the circumstance in which it was brought up in what you are going through now. We elect people to represent us. We expect them to represent us fully and to abide by all the laws and acts required of this position," she said during closing public comment.