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Board members question bill related to employee investigation

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published June 5, 2019


MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Typically, the approval of the bills goes on without a hitch at Macomb Township board meetings, but not at one last month.

A bill questioned by Clerk Kristi Pozzi May 22 was an invoice from Nemeth Law. The item was moved from the bill run to an open discussion.

The invoice indicates that legal services were conducted in March for $6,050. Services were in regard to an employee investigation.

The motion was approved to pay the attorney invoice 5-2, with Trustee Tim Bussineau and Pozzi voting “no.”

Pozzi’s concern was an investigation conducted on an employee in her department, centering around an allegation that the employee falsified information on their employment application.

“Past practice has been that the department head requests the investigation, is involved in it and makes the decision as to whether or not the employee moves forward with discipline or moves forward to a Loudermill hearing,” Pozzi said. “I did not have that same opportunity.”

She said Macomb Township General Counsel and Human Resources Director Tom Esordi investigated on his own, and what concerns her is the investigation is supposed to be unbiased.

“The HR director is not supposed to be against the employee,” Pozzi said. “Based on the invoice, the hearing was conducted March 18, but on March 15, he met with outside legal counsel for this investigation for allegedly falsifying information on an application, which I find is far less gruesome as the things that have been brought before us recently.”

She said Esordi spoke with an outside attorney at Nemeth Law about a Loudermill hearing for an employee who might be discharged for dishonesty on an application, and had his mind made up as to where the investigation was going, prior to it beginning.

“In addition to that, we spent close to $2,000 for outside legal counsel to conduct an investigative meeting on an employee — $1,430 was just for that attorney to come in and do the investigative meeting,” Pozzi said.

She added that investigative meetings happen all the time in the township with employees and are conducted by the department head and the human resources director.

“We also paid $440 for that attorney to prepare documentation for the line of questioning,” Pozzi said. “I believe the skills of our master HR director should be able to allow him to develop the line of questioning. We also spent $302 on potential issues on how to address an investigation prior to investigation. It concerns me that our attorney is not capable of addressing investigations prior to an investigation.”

The bill is $6,050 and Pozzi said township purchasing policy does not allow for a $5,000 or more invoice to be paid without it going before the board.

“Nowhere in his agreement does it say he can supersede our purchasing policy,” Pozzi said. “Not one other department head or elected official has the authority to do that. If they want to seek outside legal counsel, they have to bring it before the board, anticipate the charges, and then we approve it. We have thousands and thousands of dollars that go out in legal expenses that we have no say in who gets contracted.”

Bussineau said a line from Esordi’s contract has been ignored by the board in regard to legal bills.

From the contract, he read, “The employee in his capacity as general counsel shall have the authority and duty, under the general direction of the township supervisor, to contract with legal counsel, when, in the employee’s exercise of his legal discretion, such an arrangement is in the best interest of the township, and/or legally required, such retention shall be subject to the board’s review.”

Bussineau said the only review the board has ever had is to approve bills.

In the past, Esordi has said he doesn’t comment on township operations.