T. J. Clark Indicted

[UPDATE]  I should receive a copy of my FOIA’d credit card statement on Friday 3/20.  Check back often I will post ASAP.

[Update 2] Per the clerk, there’s been a slight delay.  I should have it on Monday.

Mlive Media Group reports that T. J. Clark, the former county administrator has been indicted on felony embezzlement charges after he was fired in 2014.

Jeff Harkness, a former Sheriff’s Department Sergeant was also fired last year for embezzlement.

Credit card statements given to me by an anonymous reader appear to show that on multiple occasions another county official has purchased show tickets using a county credit card.

For the record, I don’t know T. J. Clark, and do not support him or anyone else who steals from our County.  What I find interesting about this situation is that one of the defenses brought up was that “everyone else did it”.  While I sincerely hope that this is not the case, I feel obligated to find out.  Yesterday evening I filed a FOIA request with the county requesting any/all detailed credit card statements from 2014.  I’ll keep you posted on what happens.

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McLaren and Plowman fail again

Except that the commissioners aren't begging...just taking...

Except that the commissioners aren’t begging…just taking…

Check out the article that ran in the Durand Independent this weekend.  What you’ll see are two career politicians trying to keep their welfare checks:

MotionsDieOnTie

Let’s look at a few quotes in the article:

Commissioner Aue says the following:

I don’t understand how part-time employees deserve full-time benefits

We are public servants.  I think this is a good faith effort to show the community that we are willing to share in the sacrifices to move forward”

Thank you commissioner Aue!  This is EXACTLY correct.  Folks-this is one of the four commissioners who are working to fix this mess.  The others are Holzhausen, Root, and Schneider.

Now, let’s look at a quote from commissioner Plowman:

Though people consider this to be a part time job, this job is every day

I think elected official works better.

Commissioner Plowman.  On behalf of the people of Shiawassee county I would have to ask you, as an elected official what makes you feel that you are entitled to ANYTHING?  If that’s why you’re running for office, and I think we all suspect that it is, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons!

As as citizen/taxpayer of Shiawassee County, do you know what I feel entitled to?  PUBLIC SAFETY!  Yet you’ve chosen to prioritize your pension and healthcare over that fundamental government obligation.  That is inexcusable.

The best thing that you could do at this point is to make this as part time of a position as possible.  Stop interfering with those who are trying to fix this county!

Moving on to former commissioner Bob McLaren’s comment:

During citizens comments, a past county commissioner, Bob McLaren of Shiawassee Township, strongly disagreed with the move, saying elimination of the commissioners from the county pension program as of 2017, will save the county about $100 a month.

Here’s what the 2015 approved budget (page 21)  has to say about that:

retirement

Let’s see here.  $3033 /  12 months in a year = $253/month.

So Mr. McLaren’s number was only off by 253%.  On the bright side at least we weren’t relying on him for anything important in 2014-like approving our county budget!  Mr. McLaren voted to eliminate our road patrol along with Plowman, Bartz, Nordbeck, and Horvath.

This is exactly the type of misinformation that the people of Shiawassee County received in 2014.  It will happen no more.  Every time that you lie, I will be here to correct it.  Even better yet, when election time rolls around I will be here to make sure that you face each one of those lies.

Mr. McLaren let me tell you that it is completely obvious to everyone reading this article that you are trying to preserve this entitlement in the hopes that you will be collect it after next election.  Good luck with that!

While we’re on the topic of “it’s just $100/month”, let me ask the following:  “When a county can’t manage to put cops on the road unlike almost every other county in the state, is $100/month too much?”  I would say yes!  Every dime that this county can muster should be saved to get cops back on the road!  How many “just a $100/months” are tucked into our current budget?  It seems that Montcalm County can run public safety and courts for 2.6 million dollars less per year that we can.  The big difference-they actually have a road patrol!

Since we’re on the topic of numbers, let’s dig a bit deeper the commissioners pay and benefits:

According to the 2015 budget Health, Dental, and Vision insurance costs the citizens of this county  $40583/year, or $3381/month!  (There’s a half of cop!)

According to the 2015 budget Commissioner Pay, including Per Diem, Other Meeting, Base Pay, and Social Security consume $60,096/year, or $5008/month!

All told the total amount of money spent on commissioners adds up to $112,358 per year!  That’s a little more than $16,000/commissioner…all for a part time job.  Time for that to change.

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The Naughty List [Updated]

NaughtyList

As I start this article I want you to know that we now have 4 very good commissioners who are fighting everyday to try to fix the issues within our county and get cops back on the road.  Unfortunately, they seem to face constant obstruction from a few other commissioners and elected officials.  Everything that you are about to read has been posted at some point or another on this site.  I’ve just compiled it in one place for the first time!

I’ve been fighting hard to save our road patrol for more than 4 months now, and have been slowly forming opinions about each individual commissioner.  Whenever possible I’ve tried to give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that they prove me right.  Instead the three folks below have, in my opinion, done everything that they can to obstruct our efforts to get cops back on the road.  This week, the three of them voted to keep their pensions, even though we can’t afford to put cops on the road.  Let’s meet them, shall we…

John Plowman

Plowman

Represents: Perry and Woodhull Townships and Perry City

Phone Number: 517-625-4545

Accomplishments:

Jeff Bartz

Bartz

Represents: Bennington, Owosso Pct. III, Sciota Townships, City of Laingsburg and City of Owosso Pct. 6-1

Phone Number: 517-625-5554

Accomplishments:

John Horvath

Horvath

To be honest John almost didn’t make this list-Until he voted to keep his pension.

Represents: City of Owosso

Phone: 989-627-1962

Accomplishments:

As you can see, if you’d like to run for county commission, I’ve just written your “why you should vote for me instead of him” speech.  Now I ask all of you to spread the word, tell your friends what their commissioners are doing.  Encourage anyone that you know in these areas to run for county commission!  We have a year and a half to do this, so let’s start now!

If you are a commissioner that’s made the Naughty List-it’s not to late to change!  Give up your pension, open up the budget and get cops on the road.  If you do that, I’ll be happy to remove you from the naughty list.  Remember-even the Grinch can grow a heart!

Grinch

If your commissioner isn’t on this list, please know that they are doing a good job representing you and trying to fix the dysfunction that has overtaken this county.  To everyone reading this: I need your help-ignoring the issues going on in the county will only lead to more cuts to services and higher taxes for you!  To quote Dr. Seuss one more time:

dr-seuss-someone-like-you-cares-a-whole-awful-lot-nothing-get-better1

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An Anonymous Reader Writes [Updated]

I received a message from a reader of this site, and thought it was worth sharing.  I’ve added a few comments throughout.

Former Commissioner Robert McClaren and a few Township Supervisors (DeCaire-Caledonia & Grinnell-Perry) continue to beat the drums that the millage was defeated because of Mayor Ben Frederick and the other mayors in the county who wrote a letter asking questions about the millage extortion attempt.
It seems the plan of the “old-guard” attempting to continue to run this county into the ground.  Their plan: make us pay more so that they can continue their extravagant ways.  After all, without that money, who will pay for their pensions and healthcare?
Their activities are encouraged by Bartz, Plowman & Braidwood. They like to twist facts and time-lines. Example…. they repeatedly state that the mayors confused the voters with the 8M in the tax fund. A review of the timeline would show that this was not referenced in the letter the mayor’s wrote…… and was not even mentioned until after the November election. This is just one example. This group wants to blame the county budget demise on “others”….. with whatever lies are necessary to do so. Interesting to me that they claim that the County Voters blindly followed Mayor Frederick in voting no on the county millage……. yet Mayor Frederick’s endorsement on the Owosso School Bond did not push that across the goal line. The fact is…. Ben did not cost the Commissioners their millage…… but rather the incompetence of the BOC cost the Owosso Schools their millage, and likely any other entity in Shiawassee County who dare ask for anything.
This is a theme that I continue to hear: those who offer solutions are vilified while this county continues to spiral downhill.
Needless to say, McClaren wants back on the board, and Bartz and Plowman want to retain their pensions and health insurance benefits.
That’s true-so true in fact that Bartz, Plowman, and Horvath just voted for it.  Can’t afford to put cops on the road, but can afford pensions and healthcare for their part time jobs.  This is disgusting: they should be ashamed, but unfortunately to be ashamed one must posses the ability to be shamed.
Why has no-one has been able to get an answer from the county on Ben’s research that turned up that the county cut their court cost revenues by several hundred thousand dollars, when the law was changed to restore these revenues? They have also been stalling on the 2015 property tax estimate… I thought when we eliminated the personal property tax on businesses, the state was going to hold local municipalities harmless from losses? Did the state fail on this promise, or did the county “forget” to create a line item for this replacement revenue? When does the county get their annual insurance refund that they did not budget?
Several great points here:
  1. Property Values-My SEV went up, and I bet yours did too.  The county drastically underestimated increases in property taxes for this year.
  2. Insurance refund-I’ve also heard this from multiple reliable sources.  The county didn’t budget for their insurance refund.
  3. Court costs-Here’s what they are talking about:
    1. Last year the supreme court had a ruling that dramatically reduced the amount of money that courts could charge for court costs.  This article covers it in detail. http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2014/07/van_buren_county_out_710000_af.html
    2. The county allegedly adjusted their budget to compensate for this, resulting in a pretty big loss.
    3. The state passed PA352 of 2014 to fix this.
    4. The county never re-adjusted the budget to fix this.
With the millions of dollars the BOC allowed the med care facility to amass by over-taxation, and the double taxation for veteran’s services….. the BOC has plenty of room to reduce those millages as a show of good faith against their real needs. Just because the voters approve an operational millage amount does not mean the entities should be wasteful with spending, nor should they horde money. The BOC has been reckless in these areas…. as it is their job to levy only the amount needed to provide services, and not to simply levy the “max”. That is why may objected to the obnoxious 2.5M request. Even though they had only a 750k shortfall (per the Headlee request), they would have spent every dime of the 2.5M, while still over-taxing for vet and med care services.
I’ve also heard about the Medical care facility from other sources.  Same story-huge pile of cash.
What ever happened with the former county administrator deal? Are other county employees going to be held responsible for their questionable spending. Some of this was revealed on the same statements that were released questioning the administrator’s charges. Are judges above the law?
Update: The same anonymous reader sent me the Credit Card Statement!  Click HERE to view it.  I was a bit shocked to see what it allegedly shows.  I suspect that I would be wise to FOIA all of last years credit card statements.  This will allow me to both validate that this is “authentic”, and see what our officials have decided to spend our tax dollars on.
Another Q in their budget…… Why have the Venice Park payments been so substantially reduced over the past several years? Who is benefiting from this, and are their commissioners who have conflicts? Are we the only county in the state where no hazardous materials collections are offered?
Has the state EVER published the time of submission for ballot language??? A review may show that this time is never published, as it was/is set by a law from something like the 1950’s….. common knowledge in the clerk circles…..
Is anyone going to address the GROSS mis-management occurring in the sheriff’s dept???? When the county/court offices close for a holiday, why do all the security and court personnel under control of the sheriff get to play cards and collect OT pay? How many administrative positions do we now have setting idle in the Sheriff office who could be on the road?
Could go on and on…..
Please do-keep going on and on.  Tell your friends and neighbors what our tax dollars are buying in this county…
Get your friends to run for commission!  Make sure that Plowman, Bartz, and Horvath don’t get re-elected. We’re going to have to take this county back on our own!

Will commissioners put their Pensions ahead of our Safety?

Except that the commissioners aren't begging...just taking...

Except that the commissioners aren’t begging-just taking…

This week the Shiawassee County Commissioners will consider a resolution that will end their pensions and benefits.  In accordance with state law this will take effect after the next election.

The commission will be forced to decide whether or not their pensions are more important than our safety.

If you can make it to any commission meetings this week, please do!!  You will be able to see for yourself who is in this for a paycheck, and who is here to make this county a better place!!!!

FYI-at least one commissioner is currently not accepting benefits and donating his pay to local charities.  If we could just get the rest to follow his lead we would be fine.

Rest assured that I’ll make it my life goal to end the political careers of anyone who votes to keep their pension.  Your free ride ends now!

WatchingYou

What the Owosso Bond Issue Means for Our Commission

A school district within a highly supportive community.  A private foundation offering to throw in a Million dollars if it passes.

It sounded like a no brainer, but it was rejected by a landslide.  So why bring this up on this site?  Simple-the Owosso bond is a clear sign to our commission that there is no support in the community for higher taxes.

The commission is now faced with a choice, either:

  • Try for a tax increase that is destined to fail…or
  • Get real.  

Our commission needs to open the budget, make responsible cuts, take money from the DTRF, and get some cops on the road.  We are paying way more than we need to for courts and public safety yet we’re getting no road patrol!!!  Why don’t our tax dollars buy us the same basic government services that other counties enjoy?

In the Argus Press, and Durand Independent I‘ve asked the commissioners to re-open the budget and find money now.  The meeting is next Thursday…let’s see if they will….

The Letter to the Editor

My Letter to the Editor ran today in the Argus Press.  I was hoping for Saturday, but will take what I can get!  Below please find the editorial along “with bonus features” including interactive links to other articles and additional commentary.  Please note that I’m limited to 400 words in a letter to the editor, so this is a great place to further explain things.

Shiawassee County officials continue to hide from the public, holding their meetings during the day, avoiding questions, and refusing to take a position on tough issues.  The people of Shiawassee County deserve better!  Mlive reports that we may just be the only county in the state without road patrol, yet no real efforts are being made to fix the issue.  We have around 8 million dollars in the DTRF yet choose to hoard it instead of putting cops on the road.

About the DTRF: If you’re new the the site the basic idea behind the Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund is that the county takes it’s Delinquent property taxes, sells them to a collection company, and gets a portion of that money back.  There are time periods where this account dips down by around 4 million until those funds are collected.  However, as you can see here, the county averages about 765,000/year in profit from this account.  In other words this account has about 4 million dollars more in it than the county will ever need.  Some counties don’t have any money in this account at all-they just take out a loan until the delinquent taxes are collected and make slightly less in profit.

Two weeks ago, I sent a question to our commissioners and told them that their responses would be posted on both the saveourpolice website and our local papers.  This made some commissioners really uncomfortable.  The question was “would you support immediately re-opening the budget to find money to partially fund our road patrol?”  After I few emails and phone calls, I managed to get all of the commissioners to respond.  Here’s what they said:

Schneider-Yes

Horvath-No Comment

This is where you would expect me to rip into Horvath, but I’m going to instead take the high road and hope he will actually work with me next time.

Holzhausen-Yes, but we need to save some contingency money for other things.

I agree with this statement, but would add that we also have a Fund Balance (savings account) that we can use for emergencies.

Plowman-Yes, but we need more revenue (taxes)

When we’re spending 2.6 million dollars more than a similar sized county on public safety and courts, do we really need more taxes?  Not as long as we’re paying for commissioners healthcare and pensions we don’t.

Bartz-No, “There is no support for half a road patrol.”…”There is not enough money to run road patrol safely” (This is myth is busted on the website.)

Here is the full text of what he sent me: “There is no support for half a road patrol. Structurally it wont work. safety was and is top priority for our employees. There is not enough money to run road patrol safely”

I responded with this.

Aue-Yes

Root-Yes

A recent article on saveourpolice.wordpress.com showed that in 2014 our county paid 2.6 million dollars MORE on courts and public safety than a similarly sized county.  That county still has a road patrol, and we don’t.  Why are costs so much higher hereWhy do the taxpayers of Montcalm county get a road patrol and we don’t?

We need to start holding our elected officials accountable.  They work for us, and we deserve to know their opinions.  This applies to all elected officials-not just the commissioners.  We must demand to know what the treasurer, clerk, drain commissioner, judges, and everyone else are willing to give up so that we can get cops on the road.  If they don’t, we will make it our mission to keep them from being re-elected.

Actions speak louder than words!  I ask that the county commission make a motion to immediately re-open the budget to find money to get cops on the road NOW.  If you fail to do this, the public will knowIf you oppose or obstruct this, the public will know.  Please do the right thing and save our public safety!

My Opinion: Bartz and Plowman are Bullies

NoBully

I keep getting messages that go like this:

At the last meeting, Commissioner <x> verbally attacked <Name of Local Official> or <Name of Concerned Citizen>

So who are these bullies who continue to attack those who try and offer solution and enact positive change?  Two names keep coming up: Commissioner John Plowman, and Commissioner Jeff Bartz.

The most recent event that I’ve heard of:

“At the 2/12 Thursday Board of Commissioners meeting Commissioners Bartz and Plowman got into a verbal altercation with Matthew Shepard, a Perry resident.  The argument escalated to the point where members of the audience felt that the altercation might become physical.”

I’ve personally witnessed the commission ripping on Ben Frederick and another local official (I don’t remember his name) during the budget hearing last year.  The funny part is that neither of those officials even attended that meeting.

I’m going to resist the urge to get all high and mighty and point out that these folks:

Instead I’ll just tell you what I tell my children: “Stop it-that’s not how we act”.

My message to our elected officials is simple:

  • If you bully a member of the public, or some random local official, I’ll be here to report on it-every time.
  • If you obstruct the efforts of those who offer solutions to get cops back on the road, everyone will know.
  • If you try to bury our efforts by over complicating things, confusing the issues, or spreading doubt.  I’ll be here to call you out!
  • Every time you try to avoid taking a stand on a tough issue, just picture me typing away, spreading the word far and wide.
  • If your actions don’t match your words-know that folks will be reading about it.
  • You will either change, or I will make it my life’s goal to keep you from being re-elected.  All I have to do is spread the truth.
  • This is your new reality.  Embrace it, or get out.

WatchingYou

Have you been bullied by the commission?  Let me know:

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Paying more than other counties and getting less!!!

burning-money2

Reading Mlive’s article about how we might just be to only county in the state to not have a road patrol got me thinking about how other counties our size miraculously manage to keep cops on the road while we cannot.  So first I had to find a similarly sized county: This document from the state senate made it easy.  In 2013 Shiawassee County had a population of 68,900 people and I decided to select a county within 5,000 people.  As you can see I had a few choices:

  • Ionia County
  • Isabella County
  • Marquette County
  • Van Buren County
  • Montcalm County

For this week, I’ve selected Montcalm County.  I was originally going to select Marquette but thought it might have a disproportionate amount of vacation homes which pay much higher taxes so it wouldn’t be a good comparison.

Here’s a link to Montcalm County’s website.  They appear to be serving their community well, they have a road patrol, and are great at transparency.  Their budget is 324 pages long.  It details their general budgeting polices, detailed spending, employee pay and headcount.  In fact, I was able to find everything that I needed right in this one document.  If only we were so lucky in Shiawassee County.  Instead we got nothing but silence from the previous administration.  Things are getting better, but a few folks from the previous administration remain, and their goal appears to be to do whatever they can to obstruct those who are trying to make a difference.

Let’s compare the two, shall we:

Montcalm

As you can see, Montcalm took in less tax revenue than Shiawassee yet somehow managed to keep cops on the road.  How did they do this?  They spent 1.4 million dollars less on courts, and managed to put cops on the road with 1.2 million dollars less than we did-that’s how!

It’s time to re-open the budget and find money for our cops.  From what I see here, it looks like we have too many chiefs and not enough Indians!!!

Ask the commissioners, why don’t we deserve what Montcalm County has?  We’re certainly paying more for it!!!

Time To Press The Issue

No, Really, we swear that we have a HUGE deficit!

Time to tear down the curtain!

After speaking with a few local officials and other concerned citizens, I’ve determined that it’s time to for me to clearly define who is on board with getting cops back on the road, and who is not.  Those who are not will be identified and forced to justify their position to their constituents.

This evening I sent an email to each commissioner individually.  Here’s an excerpt:

I am reaching out to you today with a question.  That question is “would you support immediately re-opening the budget to find money to partially fund our road patrol?”

 

Please respond to this question on or before Saturday, February 21st.  The responses to this question will be published, either partially or in full on the saveourpolice.wordpress.com website and in both of our local papers.

 

My research, available on the website, indicates that the county is on track to make a $538,000 profit while your citizens go without police protection.  Here’s a quick link to those numbers:

https://saveourpolice.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/are-6-cops-better-than-none/

Any bets who will actually care enough to respond?

Responding Yes will of course force a resolution to re-open the budget to secure partial funding for our public safety.  Not responding at all won’t end well for them: My goal is make sure that any commissioner who isn’t working in our best interest won’t be able to run for Janitor of the Venice Park Landfill.

UPDATE: To prevent this from turning into a 10 post ordeal, I will include further updates below. (Check back daily.)

2/15

Initial Emails Sent Out.

Commissioner Schneider has responded.  Thanks Les!

I decided to drag the Treasurer into this discussion as well.  It’s time for him to put some skin in this game.

2/16

I re-sent the message from my personal (gmail) account to the 6 remaining commissioners and treasurer-just in case they didn’t receive the first one for some reason.  In the email to the treasure I also asked him how he felt about my $538,000 profit numbers.  Phone calls are the next step.

2/17

Received a call back from commissioner Holzhausen.  Thanks Gary!

Called commissioner Horvath – He had No Comment.  LOL!  That’s a first!

Left Voicemail for commissioner Root.

Left a VM for commissioner Bartz.  Received an email back from Bartz.  Thanks Jeff!

Spoke with commissioner Plowman.  He actually had a lot of constructive info to share.  Thanks John!

Spoke with commissioner Aue.  Thanks Hartmann!

2/19-I spoke with commissioner Root.  Thanks Jeremy!

Ladies and Gentleman, a miracle has occurred-I heard back from all the commissioners!  One refused to answer my question (Horvath), but at least I talked to them all!  My next step will be to compile their answers and draft an editorial.  Look for it in papers the weekend of the 28th.

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