Residents voice concern following Open Meetings Act violation

By: Nick Mordowanec | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published June 7, 2017

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Residents took the microphone in droves to voice their displeasure at the May 24 Macomb Township Board of Trustees meeting.

Their discontent stems from Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Diane Druzinksi’s ruling that the board unlawfully hired its attorney, Thomas Esordi, as its human resources director. A new in-house legal position of general counsel was also created.

In March, former Macomb Township Supervisor Mark Grabow filed a lawsuit through Deldin Law, PLLC, alleging that the board violated the Open Meetings Act Dec. 21 of last year by going into closed session to discuss the terms of Esordi’s contract.

The lawsuit stated that “the Macomb Township Board of Trustees went down the path of absurdity while cloaked from public scrutiny in a closed session contrary to the Open Meetings Act.”

It was defined as a “sweetheart” deal of a contract without an expiration date and a “just cause” termination provision.

At the May 24 meeting, numerous community members spoke out on the issue.

Resident Ted Nicodemus raised concerns about paying Esordi $150,000 per year, when he receives 5 1/2 weeks of vacation time and works with outside clients during the day.

“How in the world did you think this was a sound business decision?” Nicodemus said. “Everyone sitting up there needs to look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves, ‘Am I truly serving and protecting the people of Macomb Township, or am I just serving myself?’”

Macomb Township Fire Sgt. Ryan Gierman, who is also president of the Macomb Township Firefighters Association, said Esordi’s role as both legal counsel and HR director poses a conflict of interests if someone had a complaint about the township attorney, or vice versa.

He referred to the environment as “toxic.”

“It only benefits one man, and I think we all know who that is. … The last thing we need when we come to work is to have our stress loads significantly increased by an individual who has no motivation to work with our employees, and in fact holds two job titles that are in stark contrast with each other,” Gierman said.

Township Supervisor Janet Dunn said Esordi has been an asset to the township, citing various examples: she said Esordi saved the township approximately $70,000 since Dec. 21; he has streamlined the approval and review process in the realm of planning and engineering and cut legal costs; he has revisited the bond process and revised it for cost savings; and an audit of township departments is almost complete.

When Dunn said that Esordi has fostered an amicable ongoing relationship with three of the four unions representing township employees, laughter emanated from the crowd.

At one point Dunn threatened to use a sheriff to remove individuals who interrupted the meeting.

“I have an excellent working relationship with Mr. Esordi and have the highest regard for his abilities,” Dunn said during the meeting. “Long before he came to work here, he indicated that it was a privilege to represent Macomb Township.”

Clerk Kristi Pozzi voiced her disagreement, saying the contract is in violation of public policy, contains no expiration date and no defined terms. The township can only terminate Esordi for just cause, she noted.

“If we move forward with this HR director slash legal counsel contract, we are at great risk of being sued again for violation of public policy. … We’ll be wasting taxpayer dollars on yet another lawsuit by not addressing them beforehand,” Pozzi said.

James Gelios served as township deputy clerk under former clerk Michael Koehs, from 2002 until 2016. Gelios expressed his discontent multiple times during the meeting.

More than 69 individuals reportedly applied for the HR position, though Esordi has no prior HR experience. Gelios said his contract defies logic, as future boards cannot replace legal counsel — it’s “unheard of in local government,” he added.

“(Dunn) needs Esordi because he finagled himself and is holding her hand,” Gelios said. “He knows she’s a drowning woman and she needs him as a life preserver, even if it flies against the law.”

The next board meeting is scheduled for June 14.

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