Hatton silent on recall attempt; council members aren't

Marie Havenga • Jul 11, 2017 at 10:00 AM

During Monday's council work session, Spring Lake Village President Joyce Hatton had little to say about a recall attempt launched against her last week by a local business owner.

Hatton did tell council that she met with the village's auditor last Friday to discuss the village's net position. She shared a printout at the Spring Lake Township Board meeting Monday night, and arrived to the village meeting several minutes late because of it.

Village President Pro Tem Mark Powers, who opened and continued to run Monday's meeting because of Hatton's tardiness, scolded the village president for consulting with the auditor. Powers reminded Hatton that Village Council members must get permission from council before contacting professionals such as auditors, attorneys and engineers.

Later, Hatton said she paid for the meeting out of her own funds.

“We need to be authorized to communicate with these people,” Powers said.

Hatton said she scheduled the meeting to “confirm the statement of net position.” She said the numbers prove the village is in great financial shape: $10.1 million in assets, $2.4 million in liabilities and a net position of $7.9 million.

However, Village Clerk/Treasurer Marv Hinga said many of the items included in the numbers can’t actually be sold — such as lift stations, underground water and sewer lines, and the like. Because the village paid to have such items installed, it must attach a value to them. But it doesn't mean they could rip up their pipes and sell them on the open market for the amount they paid or have them installed.

Hatton contended that the numbers mean that, if the village was dissolved and became part of the township, that there would be money left over that could be returned to taxpayers.

“Instead of us being very poor or bankrupt or in a fire sale, you're probably going to have money back that goes back to the taxpayers, and who knows how much it might be,” she said. “It might be a few million.”

Hinga disagreed. “Many of those assets are like pipe in the ground,” he said. “I don't find that is a reasonable assertion.”

Hatton offered to go through all the numbers with Hinga.

“I wanted to hand this out and let everyone know that we are well-run,” she told council. “Certainly, I think we could obviously save a lot of money, and you all know that.”

All six council members simultaneously disagreed with Hatton's premise, yelling out “no.”

An audience member yelled, “That's a lie!”

Powers responded to Hatton: “You've got your position, feel free to grind that ax. We listened politely, but that's where we cut it off.”

After the meeting, Hatton said she's still convinced that there would be money left over if the village was dissolved.

“Certainly the former village president (Jim MacLachlan) bragged about how healthy the income was,” she said. “He did an excellent job. So did our manager.”

But Hinga has stated in previous meetings that the village would likely need to sell off assets such as parks and Village Hall to pay off debt if disincorporation became a reality. After Monday’s meeting, Hinga said the village ended its fiscal year with about $2.7 million in the bank.

“We just don't have $10 million in the bank,” he said.

Powers said he is in favor of recalling Hatton, who took office Jan. 3 after beating former Village Councilman Steve Nauta and former Village President Bill Filber in the November 2016 election. She ran on a platform of dissolving the village and making it part of the township. She considers it “double taxation” because village voters pay property taxes to both the village and the township.

“She is a person who came into office with a solitary agenda (dissolving the village), from what I can tell,” Powers said.

Powers said he expects village voters will reject an Aug. 8 proposal that would amend the Village Charter to allow a mechanism for disincorporation.

“I don't see the point of her continued service after that,” he said Monday. “She does not seem to be terribly interested in lending much to the discussion beyond that discussion item. We are hopeful to get back to the calm affairs of managing the village. We're all looking forward to that. It's been a trying six months.”

Councilwoman Megan Doss also said she's not surprised Hatton didn't address the recall attempt at Monday's meeting.

“I'm not surprised by anything anymore,” Doss said. “She compared our parking ordinance to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. We were relaxing the rules. She doesn't understand. I am surprised she doesn’t say ‘I'm sorry — I'm sorry for wasting your money, for wasting your time.’ She does not take accountability.”

Hinga estimates the disincorporation effort will cost the village about $100,000 this year.

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