The Oscoda Township Board of Trustee’s recent vote at a September meeting to hobble the duties of the township’s treasurer and clerk, and seek a financial director for the township at a cost of more than $65,000, not only undermines the political desires of the people who put the elected officials in their seats in the first place, it also may very well be an illegal move. It was petty and stinks of retribution by an emasculated and potentially lame duck board. 

The board would be wise to listen to Trustee James Baier’s suggestion that they seek a legal opinion of whether they can remove duties from the clerk and treasurer’s position legally as per Michigan law.  Baier asked at the Sept. 28 meeting, but unfortunately he was ignored. This question needs to be checked out thoroughly by an attorney because there are certain rules and regulations that townships must follow under their designation as a charter township.

This information, or part of it, is outlined in the The Charter Township Act 359 of 1947, states in passage 42.9, entitled “Township officers; powers and duties; additional officers, limitations,” that, “No creation of any additional administrative office or combination thereof shall abolish the offices of township clerk or township treasurer nor diminish any of the duties or responsibilities of those offices which are prescribed by state law.”

Certainly the law provides that charter township boards can hire financial management services, but in doing that would it diminish the duties or responsibilities of the office of the clerk and treasurer? Township officials need to hire legal council and/or get an objective legal opinion from the Michigan Township Association to show due diligence they are not breaking the law. They should do this not only because voters elected the township clerk and treasurer to do their duties prescribed at the time of their election, and also to avoid any potential legal complications that delineating duties to other individuals may cause.

The move is done in the guise of eliminating control deficiencies from the annual audit for the township. It is a control deficiency that the township gets every year, and I would bet dollars to donuts that most, if not every single municipal auditing firm in the entire county gets the same deficiency annually. The deficiency is widespread in unqualified audits, which is the highest auditing standard, akin to an “A+” on bookkeeping in auditing firms.

I’ve been reporting for the Oscoda Press since 2006 and covering townships, including Oscoda Township, that entire time. I’ve covered other local government in Iosco County, the county itself and other agencies that have had to have audits. I’ve done the same thing in my time working at newspapers in Ogemaw, Oscoda, Alcona and Alpena counties. In those 14 years of covering audits, every single audit has had this control deficiency, and every single board, council, commission, or other group has chosen to ignore it, just as Oscoda Township has done for the last decade or more. See for yourself; you can see audit reports all the way back to the early 2000s on the township’s website.

Why have the overwhelming numbers of government bodies, including counties, not hired a financial director to prepare audit documents? It’s too costly of a luxury for cash-strapped municipalities. Elected officials in my experience have opted to take the lump on their annual audit in lieu of spending thousands of dollars on something the auditing firm can do for them regardless. A financial manager is not needed when you have elected officials, who make a salary and benefits, to do the work and do it accurately. 

But according to lame duck Superintendent Dave Schaffer, who seems to be suggesting drastic government changes in the township before quitting his job for greener pastures, this move will save money for the township.

So you’re going to slash jobs and benefits for two elected officials, who the public should be able to interact with at a minimum of 40 hours a week, in lieu of a hired individual to do the work they are already doing? But one might say, “The deputy clerk and treasurer will be able to fill in for the treasurer and clerk!” Really? What good is electing a treasurer and a clerk if their duties are going to be foisted upon deputies and a hired financial director? An elected dog catcher would have more to do than our clerk and treasurer. 

The move marginalizes the positions, including the vital clerk’s position, in one of the biggest election years on record. Not only that, a year where major election laws, including same-day voter registration, mail-in absentee ballots and other voting changes are taking the forefront. This will only increase in coming years, and we need a full-time clerk and full-time deputies to make sure our voting counts are flawless in a township in the county with the most voting precincts.

A large consensus of the public, including those who attended the meeting and have voiced concerns to me, is that at its simplest form the move was a political “scolding” to McGuire by Weed and others on the board for winning the Republican primary in the treasurer’s race against Weed. One can only surmise that if Weed won the primary and the November election, and became treasurer, he would not then slash his own job in half concerning salary, take away his own benefits and give up duties to a new financial director. Weed’s ego has proven too strong for that move with his past rhetoric.

Nov. 3 could see an entirely new board, from treasurer to trustees, with nine running for trustee seats, and two newcomers in both the supervisor and clerk races. I hope voters see fit to make it so the Oscoda Township Board of Trustees undergoes a “sea change,” and I think that major decisions should be left to the new board. Any new board should reinstate full-time duties for clerk and treasurer and maintain the status quo in the township that has worked for decades.