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Goodrich recall attempts continue

Despite controversy, new village attorney ready for challenge

Mike Toma, owner of Beer World, 2041 S. Ortonville Road. Photo by Samantha Shelley (click for larger version)
December 08, 2010 - Yet another recall petition has been filed challenging a Goodrich official.

Village resident Norm Bass has filed a second petition to recall newly elected council president Patricia Wartella.

Bass had filed a recall petition against Wartella on Nov. 12, "for (her) total disregard for the financial well-being and saf(e)ty of the residents of the Village of Goodrich." The petition was denied 3-0 on Nov. 21 by Genesee County Clerk Michael Carr, County Treasurer Deb Cherry and Chief Probate Judge Jennie Barkey.

The language of the new petition will be deliberated at 11 a.m., Dec.20 at the Genesee County Courthouse, 900 South Saginaw St., Flint.

Bass said the events of the Nov. 23 council meeting included a host of village residents expressing their concern for Wartella's decision to replace current village attorney Thomas McKenney with Flint attorney Jack Belzer.

"Residents went on for an hour (at the village meet-ing) urging the council to be careful, make good changes—to walk before you run," said Bass. "Then (Wartella) made a motion to hire another attorney—without even a background check. I feel that after all the discussion the council would slow down and make a rational decision."

Bass said the county officials had criticized him for making the first recall petition too general and broad.

"We sought counsel in writing the next recall language. This time there was finger pointing," he added.

The new recall language reads as follows:

"Ms. Wartella voted to terminate the attorney who had represented the Village for nearly 20 years. She also voted to terminate the Street Administrator who had also served in that position for many years. She also said at that first meeting that she wanted to transfer street and roadway maintenance to Genesee County and away from the Village Department of Public Works.

Ms. Wartella voted to terminate the Village attorney and replace him with another without asking for resumes, applications or competitive bids for that position.

The attorney that Ms. Wartella voted to replace had been defending the Village against a lawsuit that has been pending for over 3 years. That lawsuit will be decided in April 2011, so the new attorney will have just a few months to prepare for that important event.

Ms. Wartella took these steps at the very first meeting where she served as President. She made these votes with little understanding of Village operations and with little regard for the consequences of changing personnel so quickly."

Despite the controversy, newly appointed attorney Jack Belzer was ready to accept the new position.

"A lawyer is like a doctor—you have to believe in them," said Belzer, 64. "There's some measure of comfort knowing your attorney. Sometimes there's just a better sense of comfort with one over the other."

Belzer, a Detroit native, is a graduate of Roseville High School, McComb Community College, Wayne State University and Detroit College of Law. He passed the Michigan Bar in 1973. He is also a member of the Colorado Bar Association and Eastern District of Michigan Chapter of the Federal Bar Association.

"I'm excited to come to work in Goodrich, he said. "Government work is fun and I find it interesting. I don't do it for the money—municipal work does not pay as much as other types of work."

Belzer has represented Flint, Clayton, and Gaines townships in Genesee County. He currently is the Mundy Township attorney.

"Right now I attend the Mundy Township meetings on Monday night—the same night as the Goodrich Village meetings," he said. "It's my understanding that the village attorney does not always attend. If I am needed that night I'll make arrangements for me or an associate to attend the meeting."

Belzer characterizes himself as a "very practical attorney."

"My four grandparents were from Italy—my family was very hard working," he said. "Lawyers have a very unique function to not only know the law but also apply it in a practical sense. I understand there has been some tension at the Goodrich council—I won't ever try to create tension. But some tension—open and above board, can be a good thing, too. It keeps everyone on their toes."

Belzer plans to attend the Dec. 13 Goodrich village council meeting.

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