Game of votes

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 25, 2016

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — No boring uncontested races here.

It looks like it’s going to be an interesting election season in Bloomfield Township. Challengers have emerged for supervisor, treasurer, clerk and trustee positions — most of which had been unopposed for several years — according to Oakland County’s election filing records.

Current Township Supervisor Leo Savoie, who was first appointed to the job in 2011 and then elected to the seat in 2012, said he wants to continue what he originally set out to do five years ago — help his neighbors.

“I mean this, and it’s not rhetoric,” said Savoie. “It’s a great community with a tremendous workforce here. This is a job that if you really want to help people, you have the ability to do so. We deal with police, fire, water and sewer. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you come home and turn the spigot and water doesn’t come out, you want that problem fixed no matter who you are.”

But Savoie, a former businessman in several industries, said he knows it won’t be a quiet ride to the primary. His opponent, Dave Thomas, states on the first page of his campaign website that he’s running because he “can no longer sit and watch the present supervisor and his trustees in their meetings award one no-bid contract after another,” and that he’s told they cannot have answers to their questions.

“It all started when I got my water bill (last year), and I didn’t think much of it at first, and then I looked at it again and said, ‘Man, that looks high,’” said Thomas. “I went to the trustees at a meeting to ask why it’s out of control and why they had to raise it 30 percent. I was told you can’t ask questions during a meeting; you can only make comments. And that sent me right over the wall.”

Thomas, an employee at Ford Motor Co., said he continued to attend meetings and was denied from showing a PowerPoint presentation he had prepared on water rates.

“I went around and collected 200 signatures for an audit (on water and sewer), and they ignored it. There’s no transparency — they steamrolled over the public; that’s my observation. It seems like there’s no accountability.”

Bloomfield Township Treasurer Dan Devine has had water rates on his mind for months, suggesting numerous times at meetings that water rates are excessive, particularly for older residents who may not spend all their time at their Bloomfield Hills residence.

Devine requested an independent audit of the Water and
Sewer Department, though independent audits are performed annually for the township. A resolution was placed on the April 25 trustee meeting agenda to approve an independent audit of the Water and Sewer Department, which was after the Eagle’s press time.

Thomas drew attention by placing a copy of a class-action lawsuit against the township on his campaign website. Filed on April 21 in Oakland County Circuit Court, the suit alleges that charges on residents’ water bills were not authorized by township voters and are in violation of the Headlee Amendment.

Savoie, who was notified of the suit by the Eagle last Friday, took time to review the suit on Thomas’ site since the township hadn’t yet been served at that point.

“It’s the same firm who sued the city of Royal Oak, the city of Birmingham and I believe the city of Ferndale. It wasn’t particularly unexpected, and we’ll have our attorneys look at it. We feel very comfortable that we will prevail based on discussions we’ve had in the past.”

Jamie Warrow, an attorney with Kickham Hanley PLLC who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, also declined to comment.

“It’s all written pretty clearly in the complaint, which is public,” Warrow said.

The plaintiff listed on the suit, Jamila Youmans, could not be reached for comment by press time.

“I don’t know the plaintiff who filed the suit, but all I can say is God bless them,” said Thomas in a text message to this reporter. “This is the information that I have been seeking from the trustees for almost a year, and the public has a right to this information. Local government needs to be transparent with our tax dollars.”

Devine, a licensed attorney, will seek re-election to his position as treasurer after a rocky couple of years that included a censure from the board.

“I feel I have been blessed to have been able to grow up in Bloomfield Township, raise my family here and work for my neighbors as their treasurer over the years. I look forward to continuing to work for them for four more great years,” he said in a press release.

Devine cites the township’s AAA bond rating and successful negotiations with the township’s labor unions to eliminate pension and retiree health care legacy costs among his attributes.

But his censure — promoted by his unfounded allegations that Savoie had kidnapped his daughter last year — followed by a failed whistleblower lawsuit against the township have not gone unnoticed in his 17-year tenure.

That’s why current Trustee Brian Kepes will step away from his seat in hopes of replacing Devine.

“Bloomfield Township residents deserve effective and professional elected leadership. We must move beyond needless controversies and work together to build a stronger community. The time for change is now,” Kepes said in a press release.

Kepes, a certified public accountant and current president of SRK Realty Co. and Management Co., with nearly 25 years of experience serving the township, said he’s ready to make sure residents’ dollars are “wisely spent and invested.” As well as serving as a trustee, he’s served on the Bloomfield Township Tax Board of Review and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Incumbent Township Clerk Janet Roncelli will be challenged by newcomer Susie Kern, and incumbent Trustees Neal Barnett, David Buckley and Corinne Khederian will run to keep their seats against Jeffrey Axt, Kirk Brannock, Geoff Hockman, Michael Schostak and Dani Walsh, all new faces to the township’s political scene.

Every candidate for each position is running as a Republican in the Aug. 2 primary.

To see the official filing list, visit www.oakgov.com.