ISSUES APOLOGY

ISSUES APOLOGY – Oscoda Township Trustee Timothy Cummings, pictured here on July 27, publicly apologized to Treasurer Jaimie McGuire for comments he made at a prior board meeting. “I think your victim mentality is self-created, sweetheart,” he told McGuire, later saying that his words stemmed from frustration involving a financial matter, and that his intentions at that time were not meant to come off as sexist.

OSCODA – An Oscoda Township Trustee’s “sweetheart” name calling incident has gotten a not so sweet response from the public, and a formal discrimination complaint.

A number of individuals, during the July 27 Oscoda Township Board meeting, expressed strong reactions to comments made recently by Trustee Timothy Cummings.

Following a tense discussion with Treasurer Jaimie McGuire, at the previous meeting on July 13, Cummings told her, “I think your victim mentality is self-created, sweetheart.” He then remarked, “Go balance a checkbook.”

The jibe prompted McGuire to file a formal discrimination complaint against Cummings, as well as a complaint against Oscoda Township Supervisor Aaron Weed.

McGuire shared the complaint, which has been filed with township Superintendent Dave Schaeffer, with the Oscoda Press. Schaeffer could not be reached for comment before publication, however, as he was out of town.

The complaint was not mentioned during the July 27 meeting, but calls for an investigation into the alleged abuse by Cummings, and the alleged condoning of bad behavior by the board from Weed.

“Please consider this letter formal notice of a discrimination complaint against, Tim Cummings, for his remarks during board comment at the July 13th, 2020 board meeting. His remarks were degrading, misogynistic and completely unprofessional,” wrote McGuire in the complaint.

“I would also like to file a complaint against Supervisor Weed, his lack of gaining control over the board meetings in the past when outbursts occur has contributed to the latest disgraceful behavior by Trustee Cummings.

“I expect a full investigation to be completed and swift discipline administered so this never happens again.

“I look forward to the day board members can treat each other with respect.”

The contention between the aforementioned officials all stem from concerns by Weed and others of McGuire’s alleged mishandling of township finances.

Prior to Cummings apologizing to McGuire for his remarks, the board first heard public comments from several audience members, including resident Mary Smith, who said Cummings’ behavior was offensive to her.

She said she was prompted to send Cummings a letter, which she also shared with the other board members, after his “demeaning” words and attitude toward McGuire.

Smith sought a public apology to the treasurer, for what she referred to as Cummings’ “insulting” behavior. “I quoted some of his remarks and sent this letter to him, with a cover letter, to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. I’m citing sexual harassment violation. His words did bode on sexual bias.

“I could have added that Supervisor Weed, who conducted the July 13th meeting, did not speak up to stop Mr. Cummings,” Smith continued, adding that she thought Weed and Trustee William Palmer should apologize, as well for allegedly harassing and trying to discredit McGuire.

Similar comments were shared by Frances Whitney, who said that after watching the last board meeting, she was offended as a woman and – for the first time ever – ashamed to be an Oscoda Township resident.

“Sexism is any expression based on the idea that persons, most often women, are inferior because of their sex. Sexism is harmful. Sexism is present in all areas of life, unfortunately,” she said. “After watching the last Oscoda Township meeting, I was reminded again how truly prevalent sexism is, even in this small, beautiful community that we live in.

“In the age where lawyers can now be fined for calling women ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart’ in U.S. Courts, it is my obligation to call out Mr. Cummings on his sexist remarks that were made in the last township meeting,” Whitney proceeded. “Mr. Cummings calling a woman ‘sweetheart’ is demeaning and disrespectful. It is the act of trying to reduce a woman to a child or a sex object, instead of as a peer or an equal.”

Whitney said she believed the comments were intended to humiliate McGuire and invited the board to review the Trustee Expectations and Guidelines, as outlined in the Michigan Township Association.

Also speaking was former Oscoda Township Clerk, Billie Wright, who said in her time trustees had disagreements, but “agreed to disagree” in a friendly manner.

“I’m dismayed about what is happening at these board meetings, and the way some members feel that demeaning one of ours, or theirs, at an open township board meeting is the way to solve conflicts. This lack of civility has got to stop,” she said.

Wright said it was appalling that none of the board members spoke up at the prior meeting in defense of the treasurer when, as she claims, Cummings and Palmer persisted in the persecution of McGuire for more than 10 minutes.

She said the topic, (how dirt road salt brine is measured) was acknowledged and should have been put to rest immediately, but Palmer persisted.

Wright alleged that Weed could have stopped the confrontation, but let it continue for his political aspirations to become the township’s treasurer, as he is running in the Republican primary against McGuire.

“What an embarrassment this has been to our community and some board members. Shame on you for your actions; or should I say, lack of actions,” she said.

Cathy Wusterbarth – who gave the board copies of the Ethics Handbook for Michigan Municipalities – also spoke. She shared that she has personally experienced unfair treatment in meetings and work sessions where she felt, as a resident, that her voice wasn’t being heard.

She said she appreciates the public comment opportunities but she thinks that all the township bodies – including the board of trustees, zoning board of appeals and planning commission – need to be more welcoming of the public, and have a more considerate expectation of the people who want to make statements or have their voices heard.

Wusterbarth said she was disappointed and talked directly to Cummings, and said she hoped the boards could have training on sensitivity in the future.

Others, including Steven Wusterbarth, called for a public apology from Cummings to McGuire.

Cummings did just that, and also noted that he has spoken to a good number of people in the community since the meeting two weeks prior. “And I want to say I am truly sorry for the comments that were made to Ms. McGuire.”

He said his intentions at that time were not meant to come off as sexist or to come off any other way than, he was simply expressing frustration with the communication that he had delivered and which was not being received.

Cummings said he was upset about a newspaper article (which ran in the July 1 edition of the Oscoda Press) in which he appeared as having made a mistake when, he maintains, he did not.

In fact, he says he actually helped McGuire’s office by simply resubmitting an invoice so that it could be paid, and he was frustrated that this wasn’t acknowledged.

“And I am very, truly sorry to all the women and men who have supported this topic of concern toward Ms. McGuire. And, Jaimie, I am sorry for that,” he continued.

Cummings then asked McGuire how she felt toward the newspaper article, and the appearance of the example which she used for him in the story.

The article featured McGuire’s responses to audit concerns and financial mismanagement claims made by Weed, against both the treasurer and clerk departments.

McGuire stressed that the audit is a township-wide process and, when issues occur, it is not always solely due to those in the treasurer’s or clerk’s office. To support this, she provided several examples of what she says were errors made by other township representatives.

As for the particular item mentioned by Cummings, McGuire pointed to a $1,900 bill associated with the phone system upgrade, saying that it was coded wrong by a township trustee, and that there was also no money budgeted for it. 

Cummings addressed this on July 13, saying he was the unnamed trustee involved in the phone project. He shared documentation with the board, including an Oct. 22, 2019 purchase order for the $1,900 custom rack associated with the project.

He also presented an e-mail thread, saying he received on Nov. 25 an invoice from the vendor, for the same amount of the purchase order. This came in at 1:56 p.m. By 5:01 p.m. the very same day, Cummings had sent this to Schaeffer for approval, who then provided it to Deputy Treasurer Jane Hackborn, citing the invoice, the amount to be paid, the approval and the account number.

Cummings said that it was exactly three months later when the vendor e-mailed him, asking about the status of the payment for the attached, past due invoice.

According to Cummings, he went to township hall that afternoon and found that the invoice was never paid, and that the original invoice could not be located.

Based on a report from the township’s financial software, he added that if the invoice had been processed when it was supposed to, there was more than enough money to pay the $1,900 bill.

Fast forwarding to the end of February, he said the only thing he can imagine which occurred in the treasurer’s office, was that when they went to pay the bill, they looked under the 2020 budget – not the 2019 budget, which is where this money was allocated.

McGuire said her only question for Cummings was, when he asked for the invoice and had this information, why didn’t he come to her with it.

He answered that he didn’t have that information at the time, and that he actually forgot about the e-mail.

McGuire questioned how Cummings had the time to put together all the paperwork he presented that night, but not to call her or come into the treasurer’s office to see their side of this.

Cummings said this is because he didn’t want another “backroom deal,” where the conversation is held quietly in the treasurer’s office, with no transparency.

“It’s not a backroom deal. Really?” said McGuire, to which Cummings replied, “Absolutely.”

“No, it’s all one-sided,” McGuire said, after which Cummings made the remarks in question.

As for the latest board meeting, in response to Cummings’ question about the article, McGuire said she shared this with the newspaper because it was coded incorrectly and then Cummings corrected it, and it was turned in with his signature on it.

“That was the only thing I was pointing out, is that it’s a township-wide issue,” she said, reiterating that everybody makes mistakes – not just the treasurer and clerk offices.

“Jane entered it, there was no money allocated to it, that’s how it was caught and then it was changed so it was coded correctly where it needed to be billed to,” McGuire added.

Trustee Jim Baier also spoke and admitted to being embarrassed at the last meeting that no one, including himself, said anything after the remarks about McGuire. “It was at the very end of the meeting and I think we all just sat there; a lot of us were amazed.”

Baier said he didn’t say anything, but he did fester about it and thought that he’s got to talk to his colleague. He waited a few days,. though, to see if he was going to cool down and change his opinion. “And I did not.” So, the two met later in the week.

“And we talked things over and I believe the person knew my view on it, even though I didn’t say anything at the proper time,” Baier noted. “So, I have expressed my dismay with that, but not in a timely manner.”

Palmer spoke, as well, referencing the previous public comment about him challenging the treasurer on the payment of bills.

He said it is the responsibility of the board to make sure that bills are not being overpaid. And the only way he can do this is when he has the payment of bills in hand and can look at what the rates are, compare these to what the necessary contracts call for and so on.

In this case, he pointed out that an invoice from Liquid Calcium Chloride Sales (LCC) – which provides dust control services on the township roads – listed the product used in pounds. “There’s no way to calculate what the proper amount should be in pounds. It should have been in gallons. And if we had approved that, we would have overpaid on that bill.”

Palmer initially raised this issue when discussing the consent agenda on July 13.

For more than 10 minutes, Palmer and McGuire went back and forth on the LCC matter, with Palmer saying that of the three invoices – which are clearly listed in gallons – two are correct. The third, however, is billed at 58¢ a gallon, as opposed to 55¢, as outlined in the contract.

Palmer said the troubling part for him was that, in the packet, it was listed in pounds. “If it had been listed in gallons, I’m not sure that I would have caught that we were going to pay the wrong amount.”

So, he questioned whether the treasurer’s office takes any action to look at these bills and ensure that the amounts are correct.

As McGuire explained her side of this, a heated discussion ensued and the back-and-forth continued.

The board ultimately voted to approve the consent agenda, which includes the payment of bills, but to leave out the LCC invoice at that time.

This was brought up again on July 27, with Schaeffer advising that Palmer had contacted LCC. The company agreed to the 55¢ per gallon price, for the 4,519-gallon load, which reduces the previously submitted bill by $135.

Palmer’s motion to approve the payment to LCC, adjusted to 55¢ per gallon for a new total of $2,485, passed in a 7-0 vote.

Palmer said he thinks it is important for all board members to be reviewing the bills, to make sure the township is not overpaying on anything.

He noted that since the LCC item has been resolved, there isn’t much more to say about it. However, he will continue to follow the payment of bills and any other mistakes that he sees.

“And if the residents of Oscoda Township aren’t concerned with making sure that the payment of bills are correct, then I would suggest you don’t vote for me. Because I will continue to do that – regardless of who the treasurer is – to make sure that we’re paying the proper amounts on our bills,” he said.

He added that, if he is not elected, he will still attend the meetings and ask questions directly about the payment of bills. “Because I’m a taxpayer, as well, and I don’t want to see my tax money spent frivolously.”

Weed also shared some comments, saying that he does not censor board members.

“I am not in charge of all of these board members. I am not above them; we are all elected officials. They are responsible unto themselves and unto the people,” he said.

He added that, if he were to censor board members, he would get accused of being a tyrant, or a dictator or of being on a board of “yes men.”

“And that’s not it at all,” he says, noting that the elected officials have a right to say whatever it is they want to say. Just because they are elected, does not mean they have given up their Constitutional right to freedom of speech. 

“Now, I’m not saying whether I agree with those comments or not, but I will not censor a board member,” he went on. “I’ve been told many times that I’ve needed to shut down board members on several things, but I’m not going to do that. Board members who have sat here and lied to the public’s face; board members who have blatantly said that we don’t need to follow Michigan law if there’s going to be no repercussions for it. I find that to be offensive.”

Weed said he also finds it to be offensive when board members aren’t doing their jobs, and when they blame it on everybody else.

The roles of the trustees are to make sure that the supervisor, clerk and treasurer are doing what they are supposed to be doing, he asserts. “The clerk is in charge of all clerk items, the treasurer is in charge of all the treasurer items, I’m in charge of everything else. The trustees make sure we’re doing our jobs. That’s how this works, whether we like the system or not; that’s how Michigan law has it set up.”

He also addressed comments that were shared by both township officials and the public, regarding Oscoda’s 2019 financial audit, for which Weed has said that the various adjustments that had to be made totaled $11.8 million.

He said that fixing this requires work from everyone involved, and that people need to communicate.

He also says that, within his previously summarized 51-page report, he pointed out that the board doesn’t know what the township’s financial standing is.

“We don’t know what’s in the bank. It hasn’t been presented. And today, it still hasn’t been presented,” according to Weed. “It’s only the budget that keeps getting presented. But yet, let’s blame everybody else for the problem. I don’t agree with that.”

He repeated that this needs to be fixed. “You might not like what you consider nastiness, but the facts have been brought out to the public, and if you don’t want the public to know the facts, don’t elect me. Because I will make sure the public knows the facts. 

“If you want me to lie to your face, I’m not your person,” Weed continued. “If you want a smiling politician who’s shaking hands and kissing babies, I’m not your guy. I’m here to get a job done. And when I first ran for election, I said, I am not here to make friends; I’m here to get the job done.”

“Political pitch a little bit?” McGuire interjected, also making reference to a time limit.

“I don’t have a time limit. And I find that to be rather childish on your part for that,” Weed replied.

“I need people to take responsibility for their negligence!” he fumed. “That’s all I want – people to do their job. It’s been frustrating.”