Sara Swanson

Letter to the editor: Freedom Township needs to change

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Hammond_1B_typewriterOct. 6, 2016

I have been attending Freedom Township Planning Commission and Board meetings for many, many years. While there has been a great deal of good work done by our elected and appointed officials, the last couple of years has brought to light issues that point to a broken system where township officials and appointees are not doing their jobs promptly and properly, and sometimes with little respect for our residents. Case in point was the fence ordinance debacle. But the problem goes further!

At the January, 2016 Township Board meeting a resident complained that a neighbor had both building and home business violations. Instead of the Board shutting down this very personal complaint and assigning the Enforcement Officer to investigate, there was extensive discussion, led by Board members, about all that was wrong with these neighbors’ actions; personal comments even written into the meeting minutes. During the NEXT FOUR Board meetings this resident’s name was brought up again and gossip-like discussion continued (again in the official minutes) about things that he “supposedly” did wrong. Why did it take the Enforcement Officer in excess of SIX MONTHS to finally talk to the resident only to find out that there NEVER was any violation? The resident’s name was besmirched in public and written into the minutes all those months and it took 6 months for the Township to investigate what turned out to be wrong allegations? Where is the fairness and respect for the resident?

Moreover, there were still questions about alleged building code issues. Township officials chose nonfeasance-to not look into any supposed violations themselves and the situation escalated when it was somehow brought to the attention of the Western Washtenaw Construction Authority (WWCA). In this case, the WWCA building inspector visited the property and claimed that there were “code violations.” However the resident had stayed within state mandated building guidelines specifically to not require any involvement of the WWCA. The resident received a disturbing threatening letter from the WWCA and went to Township Officials asking for help. During a nine month period, the owner repeatedly asked for assistance from township officials. They promised to do something and the resident believed them, but it turned out they were just empty promises that caused the resident worse problems than if they’d done nothing at all. Because of their lack of action, a simple issue has blown up into a major problem for this resident. He is now possibly being forced to do something he cannot afford and threatened with going to jail if he does not do so! I support inspections to ensure safety–but in this case State of Michigan licensed contractors have supported the resident’s position–so this might be a case of government overreach. Here is the real rub: Freedom Township is paying attorney fees with taxpayer funds to fight the resident who they promised to help!

Does anyone really know the role of the Townships in the Western Washtenaw Construction Authority (WWCA)? Who manages its building inspector and ensures fair and equal treatment for all? In 1999, Manchester Village, Manchester, Bridgewater and Freedom Townships signed an interlocal agreement to set up the WWCA which acts as the permitting and enforcing agency for building activities and soil erosion/sedimentation control for these governments. WWCA is governed by a board of directors appointed by the townships and village. That means the Townships hire the building inspector and he is their employee. When there is a conflict between the inspector and a resident, it would seem that it is the responsibility, as the employer, for that Township to help resolve the problem. How is the township doing its job when it is clear the resident has been asking repeatedly for help, he was given promises of help, and yet no help was given? Is this nonfeasance or malfeasance?

How do we make sure elected and appointed officials perform their jobs promptly and properly, and that the system is fair and equitable? Here are my recommendations: 1) Officials need to be qualified, trained, and have good customer service, as they are public officials serving our residents. 2) They should be properly supervised; deficiencies addressed through extra training; replacement when necessary. 3) Better processes and procedures need to be put in place to prevent future missteps; things like a tracking system for complaints, deadlines for follow up, communications, mediation attempts, accountability expectations, and more. Our tax money is not equating to accountability and good service. I ask that Freedom Township consider my recommendations and update within the next 90 days to reduce the likelihood of further missteps, inaction and problem escalation. Fix this problem NOW, PLEASE!

Karen Flahie, Freedom Township Resident

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