Treasurer files whistleblower suit against supervisor

By: Elizabeth Scussel, Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 17, 2015


On Sept. 10, Bloomfield Township Treasurer Dan Devine announced to media that he had filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the township and Supervisor Leo Savoie for an unspecified monetary judgement.

Five days later, once Savoie had been served, he could only say that there wasn’t much he could say on the matter, at the advice of his legal counsel.

“I’m sure this will be found to be among the other baseless claims he’s made out there that have been dismissed,” said Savoie. “But that’s really all I can say right now.”

The 11-page complaint alleges that Savoie “engaged in an ongoing campaign to retaliate against Devine” 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.

According to a press release from Devine’s Southfield-based attorney, Dan Swanson, the treasurer claims to have suffered a loss of career opportunities, diminishment of business and personal reputation, and emotional distress, and incurred attorney fees and costs because of Savoie’s alleged retaliation. The complaint adds that Devine’s actions in reporting Savoie are protected under the Michigan Whistleblowers’ Protection Act.

The release details a series of alleged “aggressive, provocative and retaliatory actions against Devine,” beginning with the campaign finance complaint that was filed Aug. 18, 2014.

The suit states that in April 2015 an incident occurred in Devine’s office in which Savoie allegedly berated the treasurer for filing the campaign finance complaint. The state dismissed that complaint in May after it determined that a $2,500 payment Savoie received from Hubbell, Roth & Clark Inc. — which consults for the township — wasn’t a contribution to his campaign but rather a reimbursement to his campaign fund.
Savoie had purchased with campaign funds a sponsorship to the Michigan Angels Hickory Sticks golf outing last year and later realized the event conflicted with a township golf charity event. That’s when Tom Biehl, a principal at HRC, offered to purchase the sponsorship from Savoie for his use. The funds were written to Savoie, who then contacted the Oakland County Election Commission for instructions on how to report the deposit back to his campaign account.

The suit states that also in April of this year a proposal was made at a Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees meeting to reduce Devine’s position from full time to part time, and the whistleblower suit alleges this was done “without any prior independent review or analysis of the treasurer or any of the township’s other executive positions.”

Savoie suggested during that April meeting that the treasurer’s salary and hours be reduced to a part-time position —  cutting the treasurer’s yearly salary of $137,000 — roughly $188,000 with benefits included — by about $125,000 per year.

He claimed Devine had scaled back his work schedule to 15-20 hours per week while still accepting a full-time salary and benefits, explaining that after observing irregularities in Devine’s attendance, he began tracking the treasurer’s hours over an 11-month period.

Devine defended his work and accused the supervisor of making a power grab, and the matter was dropped at the end of the meeting without action.

The press release detailed the official censure of Devine, which was voted into effect by the Board of Trustees in July. The statement from Devine’s attorney said the censure was done as a preliminary step in the process of having Devine removed from office by the governor, and any allegations from trustees as to why they voted for censure are false. The press release states that the trustees’ resolution of censure falsely claimed that Devine had brought “ridicule and embarrassment” to Bloomfield Township for several reasons, including his allegations that the supervisor had violated state campaign finance laws, his questionable investment decisions relating to fees paid for advisory services in connection with the township’s employee pension fund, and conduct causing department heads and employees to feel uneasy and threatened.
“Dan Devine’s unfortunate experience is a clear example of illegal retaliation by an employer against an employee because that person reported violations or suspected violations of law to a public body,” said Swanson in the release.

Swanson also claimed that Savoie also conspired with trustees, department heads, managers and employees to support his retaliatory actions against Devine.

“These actions were not only to oust Devine from his job, but to destroy his professional and personal reputation. The Whistleblower’s Protection Act was created specifically so employees, such as Mr. Devine, wouldn’t have to fear this kind of retaliation upon reporting suspected violations of law to public authorities,” the release continued.

Swanson said his client declined to comment.

Savoie said news of the suit came out of nowhere, even after the storied history between the two township administrators.
Trustee Neal Barnett said people in the township offices were not only surprised but upset at news of the suit.

“Right now, in light of (former Supervisor Dave Payne’s death), it doesn’t really matter. But prior to Dave’s death there was a great deal of anger directed at (Devine). They’re all really appalled,” said Barnett. “That’s just not the way we do things at Bloomfield Township. If there’s disagreements, we take care of them.”

Barnett also said he couldn’t go into much detail on the suit pending ongoing litigation, but he said he takes issue with some of the details.
“He claimed there were damages to the treasurer’s reputation — they were very much self-inflicted. He likes to play the victim,” he said.

Devine’s censure and false kidnapping allegations

Barnett was one of five who voted in July for Devine’s censure, with Devine and Trustee David Buckley voting against the measure. The move came following a highly publicized incident in which Devine reported his 24-year-old daughter missing  and claimed Savoie was behind her disappearance.

According to Bloomfield Township Police Chief Geof Gaudard, Devine walked into the Police Department May 1 requesting assistance because, he said, his daughter was missing.

According to Gaudard, after Devine answered a few questions from the officers, he began making allegations, saying that he thought Savoie or one of Savoie’s associates could possibly be behind his daughter’s disappearance.

Devine stated they “could cloak his daughter’s head and drive her around town and put a knife to her neck or a gun to her head,” said Trustee Corinne Khederian.

On the day of the report, officers informed Devine of the seriousness of his allegations. He maintained that his allegations were credible.

A 10-minute investigation and a few phone calls led to the discovery of the whereabouts of Devine’s daughter — who was unharmed and at one of her places of employment.

Days after the initial claim was made, Gaudard said, he had a lengthy discussion with Devine in regards to his allegations and why he felt Savoie or one of his associates would be capable of the act.

During the board meeting, Devine said he was willing to extend an olive branch and forgive Savoie for any wrongdoings, and he shared with the room a prepared apology.

During the meeting, Barnett said he was saddened and sickened by the situation, as well as concerned about Devine’s wellbeing.

Several board members said they had previously approached Devine about the seriousness of his allegations, questioning his mental health and suggesting he seek professional help. According to Barnett, Devine brushed off their concerns, saying he felt fine.

During the meeting, Savoie said the situation had escalated to troublesome and disconcerting.

Looking back further

In July 2011, in the weeks preceding Savoie being appointed the township’s new supervisor, Devine accused Payne and other board members of making deals behind closed doors.

Specifically, he accused Supervisor David Payne of plotting to take a job as a township consultant while also collecting a pension.
In response at the time, Payne noted that he had passed on a “double-dipping” opportunity eight years prior, and denied all Devine’s allegations.