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Art of the deal

Compromise scheme complicates clerk vote

Trustee Larro Rosso and the rest of the Township Board tried three times unsuccessfully last week to pick a clerk. They were to try again last night. Photo by Trevor Keiser (click for larger version)
February 23, 2011 - The third time wasn't a charm in the search for a new Independence Township clerk.

No one was picked at the Feb. 17 special meeting, the third deadlocked meeting in as many days. Board members and residents were surprised, however, by what Joan Patterson, clerk candidate, had to say during public comment.

Patterson said she was approached by township Treasurer Curt Carson and Joan McCrary, also a candidate for clerk, to consider removing her name from consideration. Instead, she would get the job of deputy clerk and McCrary would be appointed clerk.

"The points made in the discussion were that they thought I did not have the experience necessary to be clerk and that I could learn under her (McCrary) direction as clerk for the balance of this term and then run for the office during the next election," Patterson said. "I was somewhat surprised with the interview by Mr. Carson, but thought it was part of the vetting and the familiarization process that had been requested by the board. I was very surprised when Joan accompanied Curt for what I thought was an interview."

After some thought, the suggestion seemed odd, and friends said she should come forward and let it be known.

"I have told Mr. Carson I am not interested in the job of deputy clerk," she said. "Though the board has an option to select from a number of qualified candidates, I continue to believe I am uniquely qualified to fill the position of clerk for Independence Township and intend to continue to put my name forward for consideration of the position."

Carson didn't see anything wrong and called it "a creative solution to eliminating the deadlock" between the board.

"I thought it was a great idea, it was an idea to find a solution," Carson said. "Regardless, it would have had to been presented to the board if the parties were interested and it would have been up the board to make any kind of decision, no different than the position we're in now."

Both Carson and McCrary recall Patterson being "very excited" about the idea and open to it.

"We asked her (Patterson) if she'd be interested. Nobody was asking her to get out of the race," Carson said. "That was never even discussed because first the board has to agree to appoint McCrary and it still has to be brought up and discussed in the meeting. If there is no interest, there is no interest."

Trustee Larry Rosso called it "backroom dealing at its worst."

"I can't believe he was part of such an exercise. That is despicable, that is close to as a sleeze as I could ever imagine," said Rosso, adding Carson was a man he "respected" and whose company he "enjoyed." "This is what I do not like about backroom dealing in politics. I have always stood for the idea of all open and honest transparent decision making in government," Rosso said. "If deals are going to be made they're going to be done here."

Trustee David Lohmeier didn't understand how Carson could not see it as something wrong.

"I am absolutely ashamed at how this board has behaved," Lohmeier said. "You can't offer somebody a position that's compensated in exchange for something. She is a school board member, she's a public official today. I can't believe you don't get this."

Trustee Mark Petterson, who was unaware of the matter until Patterson spoke, said he was "taken back by it" and considered it "somewhat shady," but also understood it a bit, too.

"I'm not going to say it's OK to try and break a deadlock," Petterson said. "But I can also see a little bit where Mr. Carson was coming from in a way that it does sound somewhat like a good idea to have both candidates in there, either Joan Patterson or Mrs. Pallotta or any combination of the two."

Carson said he had also talked with current Deputy Clerk Paula Heenan prior to the meeting so "she would not be surprised" when the topic came up for discussion.

"I also told her Mrs. Patterson was not interested and so therefore nothing was happening and I said it may be coming up and I want you to be aware of it," he said. "I don't want you to get excited or freak out over it."

Heenan said Carson talked to her about five minutes before the meeting, but she didn't understand what he was saying.

"He makes it sound like we had a big powwow and I fully understood everything and no, I didn't," she said. "I think he was just throwing it out there to see what I thought when in reality it (the meeting between Carson, McCrary and Patterson) already happened. I really was blindsided about it."

Carson said it was unfortunate "a positive thing had to turn into such a negative thing."

"That's really disappointing," he said.

McCrary agreed and said she talked with an attorney and found nothing "illegal" about the situation.

"It's the way people meet and try to make solutions," she said. "In my heart I know Curt and I were doing the right thing, trying to solve the problem."

A fourth meeting to talk about the clerk was set for Tuesday, Feb. 22. Check for results.

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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