Tempers flare as township treasurer requests trustee’s resignation

By: Brad D. Bates | Shelby - Utica News | Published February 27, 2013

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — In an argument that harkened back to the Shelby Township board room prior to the adoption of its official Rules of Decorum, tempers were heated and allegations of impropriety frequent Feb. 21.

Following a debate surrounding the approval of a compensation package for a new deputy supervisor position, Treasurer Michael Flynn used his time during the township announcement portion of the meeting to discuss what he called “the elephant in the room.”

“I’ve been told by our attorney, who we pay a great sum of money, to hold my tongue, but tomorrow I’m being forced to take a day off at taxpayers’ expense to drive out to Bloomfield Hills to enter into a deposition,” Flynn said

“Many residents may not be aware we have a sitting board member who has an active lawsuit against the Charter Township of Shelby,” Flynn added. “This lawsuit is not covered by our township insurance, so all fees associated with this lawsuit have and will be paid by the taxpayers.

“This lawsuit is expected to cost well over $100,000, and probably several hundred thousands in legal fees alone. In addition to the legal fees, this sitting board member, who quote-unquote, ‘represents the people,’ wants the people to provide him with some other benefits; first and foremost is, again, money,” Flynn said.

“He’s asking the taxpayers to write him and his family up to a seven-figure check. … That’s $1 million. This board member is, of course, Nick Nightingale.”

Flynn said that he did not believe the actions of the lawsuit coincided with Nightingale’s campaign message of ethics and transparency in government, which led him to ask for the trustee to either drop the suit or resign from office.

“Nick Nightingale, including tonight, has often spoke in front of this body about ethics, including during his campaign for trustee,” Flynn said. “While I can understand why Mr. Nightingale feels he has been wronged, I cannot understand how anyone could ethically serve and sue simultaneously.

“I challenge Mr. Nightingale as the newest member of this body to practice what he preaches publicly and behave in an ethical manner,” Flynn added. “Service and suing do not go together. If he wants to live by those words, I ask he chooses who he would like to represent: his family business or the taxpayers.

“If he is truly the honorable man he claims to be, he should drop his lawsuit against the people of Shelby Township or resign, period. Ethically, there is no other option.”

Flynn went on to outline the federal lawsuit filed June 18, 2012, by Nightingale Service Inc., where Nick Nightingale is the operations manager, that alleges the township was in breach of contract and due process laws.

The breach of contract and due process charges from Nightingale Service are because of the Board of Trustees’ 5-2 vote Dec. 20, 2011, to dissolve its three-year contract with Nightingale Service with more than two years remaining.

The board cited reasons stemming from maintenance of the Nightingale Service building at 23 Mile Road and Van Dyke Avenue to more than $9,000 in overcharges.

The Nightingale Service lawsuit contends the contract was revoked because of the recall campaign against Stathakis, then-Treasurer Paul Viar and then-Trustee Michael Flynn that John and Nick Nightingale took part in, which placed the township in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment.

“(John and Nick Nightingale’s) aforementioned participation in a township recall effort was constitutionally protected activity touching on matters of public concern,” the lawsuit states.

Along with Shelby Township, Nightingale Service’s suit also names the Board of Trustees, Stathakis, Viar, Flynn and trustees Paula Filar and Doug Wozniak, who voted to dissolve the contract.

And because Nightingale was an independent contractor for the township at the time of his suit, rather than an employee, the case, its proceedings and any resulting awards or settlements are not covered by the township’s insurance policy.

During Flynn’s remarks, several members of the audience interrupted him and proceeded to shout for Township Supervisor Richard Stathakis to silence the treasurer.

Stathakis gaveled the argument and threatened to have all arguing parties removed, including Nightingale.

“I don’t appreciate you threatening me, telling me you’re going to have the chief of police remove me,” Nightingale said to Stathakis. “I am an elected official. I do not answer to you.”

“He can ask for order at the meeting, and if there is not order, he can take action to get order,” Township Attorney Rob Huth said when Nightingale asked if Stathakis had the authority to remove him from the room.

“Pursuant to the (Rules of Decorum) adopted by the board, that applies to everybody — myself, you, the residents in the audience. There has to be order here, Mr. Nightingale.”

“I hope that an elected official never has to be removed from the boardroom, but order during our township meetings is of the utmost value to the township and its residents,” Stathakis said. “And now that we have a Board of Trustees-approved Rules of Decorum, we have a tool in place to safeguard that order.”

Nightingale and members of the audience weren’t the only ones asking Flynn to cease his remarks, though, as Huth interjected in the middle of a sentence to advise Flynn against speaking publicly.

“You’re going to do what you want to do, and I’m going to say for the record I don’t think you should be talking about the lawsuit,” Huth said.

Following Flynn’s remarks, Nightingale addressed the accusations of unethical behavior and said that his lawsuit was never a secret.

“When I ran for office, this lawsuit was filed prior to me running for office,” Nightingale said. “I was very transparent with residents. I did not mislead anyone. I was not unethical.”

While he did not address Flynn’s request for a cessation to the lawsuit or a resignation from office, Nightingale has previously told the Shelby-Utica News that he would not be dropping the suit, and he views the matter of the lawsuit and his responsibilities as a trustee as separate spheres.

“(The lawsuit is) a business decision; that’s not a Nick Nightingale decision,” Nightingale said after winning election to the board Nov. 6, 2012, when asked if the lawsuit would be dropped.

“(Nightingale Service) hired numerous highly qualified attorneys to look at it, and they said federal law has been violated and they said you need to pursue this, so it doesn’t happen to other residents or business owners in the community.”