Bloomfield Twp. treasurer’s whistleblower suit dismissed

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published December 28, 2015

 Devine

Devine

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BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — The whistleblower lawsuit that Bloomfield Township Treasurer Dan Devine filed against the township in September has been dismissed.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman explained in a 16-page order Dec. 16 that Devine’s Whistleblower Protection Act suit was dropped because he’s not an employee of the township board, but rather of the people who elected him to office.

“Having already determined that plaintiff (as an elected official) is not an employee — as defined by the WPA, this Court finds — as a matter of law — that plaintiff is not entitled to seek the protections provided by the WPA,” the judge wrote in the opinion.

Devine filed the 11-page complaint months ago, alleging that Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie had engaged in “an ongoing campaign to retaliate against him” because the treasurer filed a campaign finance complaint with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office last year accusing Savoie of accepting illegal contributions from a township service vendor — a charge the state investigated and eventually dismissed.

The suit goes on to allege that after that complaint, Savoie made “aggressive, provocative and retaliatory actions against Devine,” which the treasurer’s attorney, Dan Swanson, said caused Devine to suffer a loss of career opportunities, diminishment of business and personal reputation, and personal distress, among other consequences.

The judge continued on in the decision to deny the township’s request for attorney fees and costs, which Savoie said have already amounted to tens of thousands of dollars.

“I haven’t seen all the bills yet, but it looks like they’re coming in around $40,000 or $50,000 just to get ready to this stage of it,” Savoie said. “Since (the township) has a $150,000 deductible, if (the judge) didn’t dismiss, we would’ve gotten through that like a hot knife through butter.”

Cost aside, Savoie said he’s relieved that the ruling came down the way it did. And he’s not the only one.

“It was like a huge — people were ecstatic (in the township offices),” he said. “It was like a huge sigh of relief. I’ve said to the employees here all along, ‘Hey, you’ve got to stay out of this. Just do your job.’ That being said, they’re people, and they worry.”

The worry for Savoie now, he said, is whether Devine will appeal the decision, which would be a considerably lengthier process.

“The appeal period would be mid to the end of January, so if he appeals, we’ll know by then. And that would be a two-year process as it works its way through the appellate system,” he said.

“I hope that the decision will not have a chilling effect on those who would otherwise speak out against injustice in their local governments,” Devine said to the Eagle in an email. “I am proud of my 16-year record of excellent service to my fellow Bloomfield Township residents. I have saved tens of millions of taxpayer dollars by negotiating employment contracts to ultimately eliminate pension and health care legacy costs, increased investment revenues and expanded tax payment options. I have advocated for transparency and fairness for all residents in property development issues. Although unpopular with my fellow township board members, I will continue to be the objective voice for our residents.”

Both Savoie and Devine are up for re-election in 2016.

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