Debate ensues over council member’s dual service

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published April 22, 2015

HARPER WOODS — Appointed Councilwoman Veronica Paiz doesn’t want to resign from the Harper Woods Library Board despite being told that holding both seats is prohibited under the city charter.

A debate has ensued over whether the two specific offices are incompatible to hold for the remainder of her appointment, which has led to the City Council setting a hearing date for the May 6 meeting to decide the question.

The city has a legal opinion that the seats are incompatible, and City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk and Paiz have been corresponding since January via email about the question of incompatibility.

“On Jan. 21, Councilperson Paiz notified me that she respectfully declined to resign from the Harper Woods Library Board and questioned the nature of the incompatible status of the two positions,” Skotarczyk said at the City Council’s April 6 meeting.

“I believe Councilperson Paiz’s … desire to stay on both boards is admirable, but it does create some issues because of the incompatibility of the offices,” Skotarczyk said.

Paiz was appointed to fill the seat left vacant when 32-A District Court Judge Dan Palmer left his council seat for the judicial bench in January.

Paiz did resign her post from the Recreation Advisory Board, but she has concerns about turnover on the Library Board. The Library Board has lost two board members in the last several months; the mayor, with council approval, appointed two new members last month. Another member will be resigning in the upcoming weeks, Paiz explained.

Her resignation would leave the board with four new members out of five who sit on the board. Paiz currently serves as president of the board.

“My absence would leave the Library Board without guidance and leadership,” she said. “New trustees need to better understand the direction and plans for the library that were established last year.”

The issues that she believes could have made it incompatible, such as budget approvals and the hiring of a library director, will not be issues during the remainder of her term, she explained.

“I expect that there will be no library budgeting or personnel issues brought before council before November,” she said.

The City Council approves Library Board minutes, but Paiz said she doesn’t believe other issues come before council.

City Attorney Russell LaBarge noted that there is a difference between conflicts of interest and incompatible offices.

Paiz said some of the information is arguable, and she has been corresponding with the city attorney. She mentioned that she found a case from a nearby county that brings the issue into question.

Paiz asked to forgo the hearing and made a motion April 6 to allow herself to serve on both council and the Library Board until the end of her appointed council term in November.

If she decides to run to retain her seat on the council and wins, she would leave the Library Board seat. If she serves in a council-appointed liaison capacity until November, instead of board president, and doesn’t run for council or loses her bid for the seat, she would lose her position on the Library Board, she explained.

Her motion was met with a 3-3 vote, with Councilwoman Cheryl Costantino absent from the meeting.  

The council set the hearing for May 6. During the hearing, Paiz can present her evidence on the issue.

Some council members chimed in with their thoughts on the matter.  

“I’m reading the charter,” Councilman Hugh Marshall said. “It seems pretty clear. It says a council member can’t hold both positions. So, therefore, it would seem to be that the only alternative would be to resign either the council seat or the Library Board seat, and/or amend the charter.

“I don’t know the rationale behind the charter, but the law is the law and all goodwill and wanting to be involved — that’s all commendable, but we need to make sure that we follow the city charter. That’s the paramount law in the city,” Marshall said.

Mayor Ken Poynter believes that the library director could serve as a resource for the Library Board, and Paiz could serve in an advisory capacity, too.

“I think Ms. Paiz is extremely well-intentioned and wants to serve the city, but I agree with Mr. Marshall.”

Others were ready to allow her to keep the post until November.

“Having been on the council now for a little over three years, I think from my very initial meeting we discussed amending the charter, because it hasn’t been amended since 1951,” Councilman Charles Flanagan said. “Many things within that charter need to be changed. … I don’t see any harm in letting the council person continue until the end of her term. I think we should just vote on the motion.”

Councilwoman Vivian Sawicki said that Paiz’s request could be voted on after the hearing.

“I think scheduling the hearing would allow us time to look at this a little more in depth,” she said.