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Township superintendent idea revisited

July 27, 2011 - Independence Township Supervisor Dave Wagner missed the last seven regularly scheduled meetings due to illness, and a third of all meetings in 2010.

He still receives his full salary of $78,248 per year, as well as car allowance of $600 a month and other benefits.

Trustee Neil Wallace, one of several candidates to advocate for a township superintendent in 2008, was asked if it was time to revisit the professional-manager idea.

"The events since 2008 confirmed that having an organization as large and complex as the township managed day to day by the person who just happens to get the most votes in the primary is not wise," Wallace said. "He was even emboldened by it so that he engaged in corruptions, petty and not so petty, within days after the primary, then culminating in rarely being seen in township hall."

A township superintendent, who would have been hired by township board, would be fired for that, he said.

State law allows townships to hire a superintendent to administer departments, prepare budgets, and perform other day-to-day functions.

An elected supervisor works well for townships with population of about 10,000, but not for townships like Independence, with more than 30,000 residents, Wallace said.

"With over 100 employees and $1 billion in assessed value, you don't operate out of your back pocket you get the pros," he said.

If the 2008 election had gone the other way, the township's transition to a superintendent-type government would be complete by now. Options are limited at this time, with less than a year and a half until the entire board comes up for a vote, he said.

"We do not now have the time to restructure the government to address his failings or that he is missing in action, much less to find and hire and transition in a manager," Wallace said. "The real issue facing this community is more immediate, as we are without a supervisor for months now, for months yet into the future, and perhaps for the rest of this term. We have been working very hard and well to keep things working. But the township citizens deserve more, now."

The rest of the board has been forced to fill the leadership vacuum, and has made improvements, he said.

"Our new human resources director (Carol Gabris) is very professional," he said. "Ken Elwert (parks and rec director) has worked out terrifically. The new clerk (Barb Pallota) is very professional. We have good day-to-day operations."

Also, the board changed rules in June 2009 to allow trustees to place items on meeting agendas previously, only the supervisor, clerk, and treasurer could do that.

"Before that, we were told to shut up and sit in a corner," he said.

Broadcasting township meetings on public access cable as well as the Clarkston News' ClarkstonTV.com has made a huge difference, he said.

"It's incredible how many people watch the show," he said. "People come up to me in the Union and Woodshop and want to comment it's very interactive. That's a good thing."

In 2008, proponents of a superintendent estimated its total cost at $140,000, based on Delta Township. Its cost would have been offset by making Independence Township's three fulltime offices, supervisor, treasurer, and clerk, into part time positions.

Wallace said he isn't planning another drive for township superintendent, and isn't sure if he will run for re-election next year.

"It is more important for now to focus on getting the right person, and not the wrong person, in office," he said.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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