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Rights 'trampled all over'

December 15, 2010 - Resident Rick Gutowski felt it was "totally uncalled for" when denied the chance to show his PowerPoint presentation during the Dec. 7 Independence Township budget public hearing.

"It's not like we had 20 people lined up to make public comment and there is no right for the township to censor that," Gutowski said. "I actually feel my right to make a public comment was trampled all over."

Gutowski made a PowerPoint presentation at the first budget public hearing two weeks before, but Supervisor Wagner said "it wasn't appropriate for him to do so" this time.

"PowerPoint, per the word 'power,' has a lot of power. When people see a professional presentation, they believe it's fact," Wagner said. "It's like the newspaper. When something is put in the newspaper, it's the gospel. That's how people believe it, even if it's completely wrong."

He allowed Gutowski to read what was on his PowerPoint, so he didn't see the problem.

Gutowski disagreed

"Hand gestures and 'I can see this graph, but you can't' is not an effective way to communicate," he said. "The fact the township doesn't use visual aides to communicate to taxpayers is not an excuse to say that's the correct way of doing things."

Wagner also said PowerPoint presentations have to be sent in and reviewed by clerk's office. The "Board Meeting Rules of Procedure Policy" states "an item for placement on the agenda must be received by the clerk no later than 4 p.m., 12 days prior to the meeting for which it is to be scheduled."

"Anything on the agenda has to be submitted in this time," Wagner said. "Even someone from the outside, they have to submit it to the clerk and the clerk has to accept it."

Treasurer Curt Carson agreed.

"If I was going to come and make a presentation to the board I sure as heck would come in and see if I could do it," he said. "The problem you have when somebody does that (without it being reviewed first) is you don't know what you're getting."

Wagner said Gutowski wasn't informed until minutes prior to the meeting because a decision hadn't been made about it until that day. He said the matter was also discussed with Carson and Clerk Shelagh VanderVeen.

Carson did not recall the conversation, but said "that doesn't mean it didn't happen." VanderVeen didn't return call seeking comment.

Trustee Mark Petterson said he always fights for the public's right to speak.

"If they want to go up there and give a PowerPoint that's fine, just as long as their information is factual," Petterson said.

Trustee Larry Rosso didn't recall a rule regulating the public in any way during a public hearing.

"If there is no rule to that effect at a hearing then I think he should have been able to speak," he said. "However, the supervisor can do what he wants as the presiding officer of the meeting, but he could be challenged by the board to reverse that."

Rosso called it a "technical thing."

"In the true sense of the word, 'public hearing' is usually verbalized (and) he was heard. We're talking about technology now," Rosso said. "Now if he was ruled out of order not to speak at all that would be really a violation, but he did speak."

Trustee David Lohmeier was disappointed the board didn't challenge Wagner's ruling on the matter.

"I think he (Wagner) owes Rick an apology and he owes it publicly. He should have let him show his presentation, and then to let everybody behind him that didn't send stuff in advance show things is completely unfair," Lohmeier said. "I think Mr. Gutowski has every right to be upset."

Wagner believes Gutowski's speech was poltical.

"It's a personal attack on the supervisor's office," he said. "It has nothing to do with anything else."

Gutowski admits had the board seen his presentation, the conclusions "did not reflect well on the supervisor's office"

"If he thinks the data tells something different he should be selling that, but he refused to do that," he said "(Instead) they go with smoke and mirrors."

Gutowski said if anyone was interested in seeing his presentation they could call him.

"I'm in the phone book," he said.

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.
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