STEPPING DOWN

Dave Schaeffer is pictured here on June 11, 2018, during his first official meeting as the Oscoda Township Superintendent. He announced at a special board meeting this past Friday that he will be resigning, but is willing to stay on through Nov. 30 to help with the transition to a new superintendent.

OSCODA – Dave Schaeffer announced his impending resignation as the Oscoda Township Superintendent, at a special board of trustees meeting on Aug. 28. The online event ended with he and Treasurer Jaimie McGuire making accusations against one another, stemming from a proposal at a recent budget work session to bring on a financial professional and reduce the hours of the clerk and/or treasurer.

There were several different votes cast at the meeting, associated with Schaeffer’s departure. The board agreed unanimously to all but one item, which was the salary range for a new superintendent.

In his resignation letter, dated Aug. 25, Schaeffer wrote that it has been his pleasure to serve in this role since June 1, 2018. “I appreciate the opportunity to serve this wonderful community.”

To help bolster the transition efforts for a new superintendent and new members of the township board, he stated that he can continue to serve in his current capacity through Nov. 30.

“I would just say that, it’s with very deep regrets that we have this resignation in the first place,” remarked Trustee William Palmer.

“I am very regretful that this resignation has come,” echoed Supervisor Aaron Weed, who made the motion to accept the resignation.

“I am very happy for you moving on to bigger and better things,” he told the superintendent. “You’ve been a Godsend to this township, and I will truly miss the support you’ve given to this community.”

Officials then cast another 7-0 vote, this time in favor of the job description to be posted for the position. It was McGuire who moved to approve this, with the few changes that were mentioned.

For example, Trustee Timothy Cummings pointed out some minor adjustments that will have to be made to the wording, such as replacing former superintendent Robert Stalker’s name as the person to whom the applicants should send their resumes.

The document which officials plan on tweaking is the same advertisement that was used a couple years ago, after Stalker announced his resignation. It reads that Oscoda is seeking an experienced and progressive municipal management professional to serve as the township superintendent. This individual is responsible for the management of day-to-day municipal operations, providing support and guidance to a seven-member township board and fulfilling a number of related statutory duties.

The requirements are a bachelor’s degree in an applicable discipline, at least three years of local government experience – including executive/department head level management – and strong communication skills. The preferred qualifications are also outlined.

Along with providing the advertisement for the position and the previous superintendent job description, Schaeffer also shared the recruitment guidelines for selecting a local government administrator and other documentation.

“What I have in the packet is very similar information that the township board received after the previous township superintendent resigned, to be able to set up this process,” he said.

Schaeffer was looking for the board’s thoughts on whether they wanted to do things differently this time, or follow a similar procedure for posting the job.

For the advertisement, he suggested modifying and posting this, and including a link to the township website, which details out all of the responsibilities associated with the superintendent.

Clerk John Nordeen said his thoughts on the salary have not changed much since the last time the board went through this.

As reported, a proposed salary range of $70,000 to $83,000 was initially suggested, with Stalker saying that it represented a compromise between what the township salary schedule calls for and the current superintendent pay at that time, which was $85,209.

But some board members felt that this was too low, given the amount of work required with the job. They ultimately voted to advertise for the position with a salary range of $80,000 to $100,000.

When officials narrowed down the pool of candidates to Schaeffer, Nordeen became part of the negotiating committee which discussed the compensation package.

Schaeffer was first told that the committee was offering $80,000, which would increase to $85,000 after six months, assuming things are working out to the mutual satisfaction of all parties.

Following a lengthy discussion, Nordeen said he would be comfortable offering Schaeffer a relocation reimbursement of $2,500, plus a salary of $85,000 for the first six months, after which this would be increased to $90,000.

“I feel like we’re moving up quickly,” Nordeen said at the time as, in just one negotiation meeting, the offer climbed up $10,000. “It’s really going to be tough looking back, to stomach we’re paying this guy more to start than what we paid [Stalker] when he left.”

Schaeffer ended up with a starting salary of $90,000, which was bumped up to $93,000 after six months. He was also to be reimbursed for relocation expenses when he and his family made the move from North Olmstead, Ohio. With a couple years of the standard, two-percent annual increases, he currently makes $96,000.

It was during the Friday meeting when Nordeen said that, other than the salary range, he was good with the job description and posting. He added that he thought the board worked quite well together the last time, when going through the process to hire Schaeffer. “I look forward to us being able to do that again.”

“Last time we got a lot of applications, which I was pleased with,” said Trustee Jim Baier, who also noted that Schaeffer seemed very enthusiastic about coming to Oscoda.

“I didn’t add my voice to saying, ‘with great regrets,’ because I don’t know why he’s leaving,” he said, in reference to accepting the resignation. “And maybe this is not the place to do that, but I am kind of disappointed and surprised he only gave us 26 months; from the enthusiasm that he expressed during the interview process.”

Baier asked if the same procedure would be used as last time, as far as picking five or six top candidates to call back for interviews.

Weed said it would be up to the board to decide, but both he and Baier agreed that the process used the last time went very well.

As reported, when Stalker announced his resignation as superintendent in February 2018, trustees voted to immediately advertise for a replacement.

The township received about 20 applications, and officials began narrowing down the pool of hopefuls by compiling their individual lists of top candidates. An overall top-five list was then prepared and approved, and interviews scheduled.

When one of the candidates rescinded his application, trustees held a special meeting and voted on another applicant to round out the top-five list, while also adding a sixth person to the interviews.

Baier reported on Friday that, primarily because of him, the sixth person – Schaeffer – was added. He said the reason he pushed for six is because Stalker had made it loud and clear that Schaeffer appeared to be a good candidate and sounded very interested in the job.

While steps for handling the applications and determining an interview process will have to be decided, Palmer said the matter at hand only involved posting the job description. So, he thinks the number of candidates to bring in for interviews is something which can be determined after the position is posted and the board actually has the applications.

In related action, trustees cast a 7-0 vote to approve the costs for posting the superintendent position on at least three different job boards, and to allow this to be done by Schaeffer.

They then moved on to the rate of pay for the incoming hire.

“I think the $80,000 low end is probably not commensurate with the work and the level of skill that we’re looking for in an individual to assume this position,” Cummings said, to which Weed and Palmer agreed.

“I would prefer to see the range a little tighter on that; perhaps, $90,000 to $100,000,” Palmer added.

McGuire, though, said she feels that the range is fine as is, so long as the job description remains the same.

“I’m going to repeat what I said earlier. I have no idea why you’re leaving,” said Baier, who added that he didn’t know what Weed meant when he mentioned Schaeffer moving on to “bigger and better things.”

If it’s because of the pay, he asked Schaeffer if something along the lines of $95,000 or $96,000 is more in the ballpark. “Or are you moving because it’s not in the ballpark? I’m confused.”

“I think, regardless of that, we have to set the pay,” said Weed.

He told Baier that if he was looking for some sort of personal thing from Schaeffer, maybe that should be done in person, in a private conversation.

“Well, I think what we learned from the last time, is that we weren’t able to get someone of Mr. Schaeffer’s caliber at $80,000. So, that was the reason that I suggested we close that range to $90,000 to $100,000, and go from there,” Palmer said.

Schaeffer shared that when he applied for the job, he advised that he would be looking at the upper end of the range. He also took a salary cut when he moved to Oscoda. “And that’s because I wanted to come up here.”

When he began negotiations, he said he had to prove his case that he needed more than the initially proposed $80,000 to relocate. So, he told trustees that in order to hire somebody with enough experience to be able to do the job the township wants, they are going to be looking at that very high end.

Weed concurred, and his motion for the superintendent’s salary to be posted at a range of $95,000 to $110,000 was approved in a 4-3 vote. Weed, Cummings, Palmer and Trustee Martin Gayeski cast the yes votes, while McGuire, Nordeen and Baier were opposed.

There were more than 20 people who joined the special meeting, and no verbal public comments were received. However, remarks were shared through the “Zoom Group Chat” option, by two individuals.

AuSable Township Supervisor Kevin Beliveau asked Weed to echo his comments about Schaeffer’s tenure with Oscoda Township from Beliveau and AuSable Township. “Best of luck to him!”

Resident Steven Wusterbarth also wished Schaeffer luck, and wrote that he appreciates his efforts over the last few years. “Great Job!”

When it was time for board member comments, Palmer reiterated that he deeply regrets Schaeffer’s leaving. “I would just like to say that I’m disappointed that it has come to this, that we’re losing a good man here in Oscoda Township, Mr. Schaeffer.”

Cummings agreed, adding that it’s been through Schaeffer’s leadership that Oscoda has made great strides in so many areas never previously envisioned. He cited Schaeffer’s involvement in formulating the Economic Improvement Committee, and the township’s relationship with Place & Main Advisors as a couple examples.

He said Schaeffer has been an invaluable resource, and that he will miss working with him.

To Cummings’ point, Schaeffer said the next superintendent will have the benefit of some of the work which has already been accomplished, such as Oscoda’s efforts to incorporate the strategic plan into the master plan, and completing a good chunk of the necessary steps for the community to become Redevelopment Ready Communities certified.

“And what that’s been able to enable is, an economic development strategy; a downtown redevelopment strategy; a community branding and marketing strategy; form-based code has been linked to that, and we’re still updating our zoning to be more developer-friendly. So, there’s a lot of steps and goals and objectives that the new superintendent will be able to follow,” said Schaeffer.

He advised that he will have much more information on the overall process at the next regular board meeting on Monday, Sept. 14. With six meetings remaining between now and the end of November, he intends to have a standard update at each one of where things stand.

Nordeen thanked Schaeffer for his work and his service to the community, and said that he is happy and hopeful for Schaeffer’s new situation, for both him and his family. “I hope it works out well.”

Schaeffer thanked everyone for their comments, and then said that he has received a lot of phone calls since the Aug. 25 budget work session – which is the same day he submitted his resignation letter.

He stressed that his decision to step down is completely separate from the discussion at the work session.

He said that some people believe the proposal for a financial professional to be included in the 2021 appropriations is somehow linked to his resignation. “And that is not the case.”

According to Schaeffer, what the suggestion for a financial professional does have to do with, is language in the 2019 audit. This can be viewed at https://www.oscodatownshipmi.gov/1/322/files/2019Audit.pdf.

He referenced the management letter included within the township’s latest audit report, a portion of which reads as follows:

“An example of where the Township relies on the auditor as a control for producing reliable financial statements is in the excessive number of adjusting journal entries proposed during the audit. By accounts not being adjusted monthly, the financial records provided to the Board each month are not an accurate reflection of the Township’s standings. This then adds substantial time and testing during the audit in determining accurate balances. We believe that a review and evaluation of the transactions with proper monthly and yearly closing procedures being performed would expedite the year-end closing process, reducing audit time and fees.”

“And just so the other board members understand the working environment that I have right now, I had a conversation with the treasurer yesterday, late afternoon, who came into my office and told me I better stay out of it – as far as the proposal of the financial professional – and that that financial professional wouldn’t necessitate a full-time position. And that the treasurer would not relinquish duties associated with the performance of any financial function. And so, I was not provided with the information,” Schaeffer said.

“I was also told by the treasurer yesterday that I’m in violation of a code of ethics; that I should not be talking about this,” he claimed. 

“Wow. That is highly disappointing,” said Cummings. “Apparently, the sanctity of the treasurer’s office shall not be passed….” he began, before McGuire interjected.

“I also had a conversation with Mr. Schaeffer in my office last week,” she said. “And he told me that, had he known two years ago that when he was interviewing for this job that four people on this board weren’t going to get re-elected in November, he never would have taken this job.”

“That might tell you as to which side of the accounting principles he’s leaning toward, then, Jaimie, wouldn’t it?” Cummings said.

Weed thanked Schaeffer for the explanation, before McGuire added that there was more to the conversation than Schaeffer was telling. “But again, this is a public special board meeting, so I’d be happy to discuss it with anybody.”

“You have made huge strides for this township to go in a positive direction. Major changes in just the last two years. Significantly far more productivity than we’ve received the years prior that I’ve served on this board,” Weed told Schaeffer.

“It’s disappointing that you’re being subjected to that issue,” he added.

McGuire said that she printed off the code of ethics for the superintendent, and what she pointed out to Schaeffer was the section which reads that the superintendent needs to stay out of the politics with the township.

“And he isn’t staying out of it,” she alleges. “He also asked for information on the last day that people were running for office, and then met with you [Weed] at 4:05. The superintendent is supposed to be unbiased and stay out of it.”

McGuire said that, by charter, the superintendent cannot diminish the duties or responsibilities of the clerk or the treasurer offices. “And you can’t reduce their pay without written consent, unless it’s within that term; the next term you can, but this term you cannot do that without written permission.”

“I don’t see how me going to the township hall at 4:05 that day is Dave interfering with politics. That’s an assumption, without any facts, that you just put out there,” Weed said.

“And the proposal made by Mr. Schaeffer of the changes in the positions, I find to be appropriate for the township, as a whole,” he said.

“It’s about saving money and becoming more efficient. It’s the changes that I would have made, had I become the treasurer. So, I think that it doesn’t have anything to do with politics; it has to do with, what’s the best way to make the township function?” Weed continued, noting that if the township can save money and become more productive, then that’s the option they should go with.

“Having a financial manager would be critical to making sure that our finances are done properly. Because clearly, with major mistakes in our audit, they’re not being done properly,” he said.

When asked by this reporter whether he has another job lined up and if so, where, Schaeffer replied that he has a tremendous opportunity in another state.

As reported, Stalker was appointed as the first superintendent of Oscoda in 1991. He announced at the Feb. 12, 2018 board meeting that he would be resigning. He officially left the job that June to establish a municipal management consulting practice and to pursue other professional interests.

At the time Schaeffer applied for the job, he was employed as the finance director for the City of Brooklyn, Ohio.