Meridian Township has a new treasurer to replace just elected state Rep. Julie Brixie. Township Clerk Brett Dreyfus is concerned the Meridian board greased the wheels for her replacement through a “backdoor deal.”
Meridian Township Trustee Phil Deschaine was selected to succeed Brixie in a “super-fast” nine-day selection process Dreyfus feels was rushed because the remaining members “had an insider in mind.”
“They ignore the voiced concerns of township citizens about the need to have a well-qualified candidate with financial management skills selected and to not break the trust the citizens have in their elected officials by turning the selected process into a purely political appointment,” Dreyfus told City Pulse.
But Trustee Dan Opsommer said the oneweek application deadline and the public meetings that followed was an open process with a “robust, thorough discussion” that concluded with the best-qualified candidate getting the post.
He said the quick selection process was needed so Brixie could personally train Deschaine on the Dec. 31 tax collection process before she resigned Dec. 7 to spend time with family before jumping into the legislative arena.
Opsommer, who was on the treasurer selection committee, said Brixie’s imminent departure shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone in Meridian Township. While Brixie, whose campaign he managed, ran in a competitive Democratic primary, the results of her Nov. 6 race in the predominantly Democratic 69th House District wasn’t in doubt to anyone who was paying attention.
An interested applicant had essentially most of August and all of September and October to prepare for the post, which is what he feels Deschaine did.
Here’s the timeline Dreyfus is concerned about. On Nov. 6, Meridian Township learned, officially, that Brixie had won. At the Nov. 8 Township board meeting, Deschaine introduced the motion to approve the proposed selection process, which allowed the township to accept applications for four business days.
A special three-person subcommittee was created to weed out applications to three finalists, which would be narrowed to a winner at a special Saturday board meeting.
On Nov. 14, Meridian Township received six applicants for the $71,000-a-year job, a number Dreyfus feels was low because the township didn’t cast a wide net to attempt to recruit quality applicants.
The next day, the three-member township subcommittee, Meridian Township Supervisor Ronald Styka, Patricia Jackson and Opsommer, narrowed the field to three — Deschaine, who up until April was a medical equipment software sales manager in Davison, Assistant Auditor General Dante Ianni and Linda Burghardt, the executive director of the Area Agencies on Aging Association.
The selection was on Nov. 17, a special Saturday meeting that was legally posted. The meeting started at 10 a.m. More than 20 questions were prepared for each of the three finalists and the candidates were given an hour each to make their case. The meeting concluded around 3 p.m.
Deschaine shined in the interview process, Opsommer said. He went through a special Michigan Townships Association training session to learn about the job. He knew what the township treasurer does and doesn’t do. He knew the township’s four different millage rates and the four different school districts that touch the township. In short, he had done his homework and was clearly ready for the job.
Even Supervisor Ron Styka, who said he entered the process leaning toward Ianni, concluded after the interviews and speaking with other trustees, that Deschaine was the best choice.
Styka said he took exception to any insinuation that he played politics with the decision. Starting with his time on the Okemos School Board in 1990, he said he’s earned a reputation as a thoughtful public official who makes decisions based on facts and information.
Told about of Dreyfus’ comments, the supervisor responded, “That’s ridiculous.”
Yes, the process was condensed, he said.
Originally, the process he had constructed was going to take longer. However, Brixie wanted to step down Dec. 7 as opposed to Dec. 31 and allowing the winning applicant to shadow her for two weeks before she left was critical to the board to assure a smooth transition, he said.
Styka noted that when the board recently discussed the process it will use to replace Deschaine as trustee. It’s essentially the same process, but the township will take applications for two weeks as opposed to one.
For what it’s worth, Dreyfus not only openly supported the process and the schedule, he suggested voting to approve it immediately.
Melinn, of the Capital news service MIRS, is at firstname.lastname@example.org