BY CHRIS FAULKNOR, PUBLISHER & BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR
Concerns over financial oversight and the use of public resources in one local municipality have prompted a legal opinion and police investigation.
The Charlevoix County Sheriff Office confirmed it is now investigating Village of Boyne Falls Clerk Debra Taylor after she admitted to using village gravel for her home driveway.
Village of Boyne Falls Trustee Mike Kondrat brought the matter to light at the village council’s Feb. 13 meeting by asking whether the village clerk had paid for several tons of gravel she took in July 2017.
Taylor did not say, during the meeting, how much, or when, she paid.
In the days following the meeting, Taylor told the Boyne City Gazette she had paid for the gravel in July of 2017.
However, the receipt received through a Freedom of Information Act request shows the bill was paid six months after she took the gravel, in January of 2018. The request for documents was received on Feb. 26.
An invoice dated July 15, 2017, shows a “quantity” of 7.22 for Afton stone with a unit price of “13” and an amount of $93.90.
According to a receipt in the document request, the stone was not paid for until Jan. 31, 2018, a couple of weeks prior to the meeting where Taylor was admonished and questioned about the gravel purchase.
Taylor later told the Boyne City Gazette that she never said she paid for the gravel in July but merely invoiced herself then.
A bank deposit slip dated Jan. 31 in the amount of $93.90 was also included in the document request.
Written on a Village of Boyne Falls official receipt is a note stating that the payment for the Afton stone had been put in the village’s Local Street Fund.
In a previous interview, Taylor admitted to taking the gravel but said she didn’t know she wasn’t allowed to until she spoke with the village attorney. Taylor later said it was someone at the Charlevoix County Road Commission, where she also works, who told her she wasn’t allowed to use public resources for personal projects.
Kondrat also expressed concerns that the village needs a treasurer separate from the clerk—Taylor has been working in both positions—to help ensure proper financial oversight. To that end, Kondrat recently contacted the village attorney.
In a letter dated Feb. 16, from Young, Graham & Wendling, the law firm which represents the Village of Boyne Falls, it was noted that the village has been without a treasurer for more than a year.
“The Village of Boyne Falls has an ordinance in place allowing for the position of treasurer to be appointed as well as addressing a vacancy of the treasurer position, being Ordinance No. 57,” stated Attorney Peter Wendling. “The authority of the village to make the treasurer’s position an appointed position is contained under MCL 62.1 which addresses officers…”
He added, “The village ordinance states in relevant part that, ‘the village treasurer shall be chosen by nomination by the village president and appointment by a majority vote of the village council. The ordinance goes on to discuss the term of office, being a two-year term from the second Monday of March of each even-numbered year until a successor is appointed. Note that the ordinance requires the appointment of a village treasurer when there is a vacancy.’”
According to Michigan law, “A vacancy occurring in the office of president, trustee or any other elective office shall be filled by appointment by the council.”
Wendling then cautioned that, “Just because … the law allows for the village treasurer position to be filled by appointment does not negate the fact that one needs to be appointed forthwith and in a timely fashion as reflected in the village ordinance.”
“[I]t is my opinion that the village president and council has a legal duty to appoint a person to serve as village treasurer and must fill this appointment within a reasonable period of time,” he stated.
“The failure of the village president and the village council to act to fill this vacancy within a reasonable time may subject the village to a potential lawsuit for mandamus (a court order) to require this action.”
Wendling recommended the village council post the position and advertise it in the newspaper with a specific deadline for receiving applications or letters of interest.
According to Wendling, the matter could be resolved in 30 to 45 days.
Look for an update on this story in the coming weeks.