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Chaos at Village Council meeting

Marie Havenga • Jul 19, 2017 at 8:00 AM

SPRING LAKE — Monday's Village Council meeting became so chaotic that a former council member called the session “dysfunctional.”

Village President Joyce Hatton questioned how much Village Clerk/Treasurer Marv Hinga is being paid. Hinga, who is an Ottawa County employee, has worked for the village since the first contract between the county and village was signed in December 2013. His hourly rate — including salary, retirement, health insurance, Social Security, life insurance, etc. — was $61.55 for the first contract, which expired in June 2014.

According to the agreement, the contract between the county and village is renewable for up to five successive one-year terms, “by mutual written agreement of the parties.”

Hinga's current hourly rate, including salary and benefits, is $78.01.

Village Manager Chris Burns said if former Village Clerk/Treasurer Maribeth Lawrence was still working for the village, her pay would have been about $108,000 in salary and benefits. Hinga was paid $106,000 last year, Burns said.

Hatton claims there are “missing contracts” because the original agreement states renewals must be in writing. But Burns indicated some of those agreements were the county emailing her with the new pay rate for each year.

Burns said Hatton is looking, but won't find a “smoking gun.”

In an email Hatton sent to council members less than 90 minutes before Monday night’s meeting was scheduled to start, she said: “I am recommending that our agenda this evening discuss these payments and contracts at our 7 p.m. meeting, before we pass the consent agenda. The consent agenda includes a payment to Hinga from Ottawa County for $13,515 for employment from April 23 to June 3, 2017.”

As she attempted to discuss the issue during the meeting, Mayor Pro-tem Mark Powers said: “Forgive me for interrupting — I feel no need to discuss it further.”

Powers made a motion, which was seconded, to vote on the $13,515 payment, which Hatton had requested be removed from the consent agenda for further discussion.

Village resident Niki Hansen, who was in the audience and is a Hatton friend and supporter, said: “You guys are so corrupt.”

After village assistant Mary Ann Fonkert had already started a roll call vote, Hatton said: “I think this is something we have to have a roll call vote on.” But Fonkert reminded her that a roll call vote was already in progress.

“We've already asked everyone else and they've all approved,” Fonkert said. “It's to you.”

“I'm thinking,” Hatton responded. “I don't think that it matters, so I will say no.”

Burns asked Hatton if she would like her to go through the department reports, which was the next item on the agenda.

“No,” Hatton said. “I'm just thinking about the fact of what happened. It seems we passed and agreed to pay for things that have already been paid for when we're asking for approval to pay them.”

Even though there were items left on the agenda, Powers said he would like to make a motion to adjourn, “if we're not going to progress in a manner that's productive and useful.”

Hatton directed Burns to continue.

“The village manager must have a very large report for us,” Hatton said.

As Burns gave her report, and used the word “we,” Hatton asked: “May I interrupt and ask who 'we' are?”

“We, the village,” Burns said.

Hatton laughed.

Councilman Joel Tepastte said he didn't appreciate being “blindsided” by Hatton's disparaging comments about Hinga.

“If anything like that ever happens in the future, I would hope you would take the time to wait for a work session so we could discuss it,” he said.

Hatton said she asked Hinga personally about the need for a written contract every year.

“He said he negotiated every year with the village manager,” Hatton said.

“That is not true,” Burns said.

“That is absolutely false,” Hinga said.

“Can you explain why there is no written contract?” Hatton asked Hinga. “Maybe you would say what you did answer.”

Hinga replied: “I told you the contract had been renewed verbally.”

“Between whom?” Hatton asked.

“Between the finance director of the county and the village manager, but there's nothing written every year,” Hinga said.

Powers made a motion to move on to the next agenda item, which was seconded, but Hatton pressed on.

Councilwoman Megan Doss reminded the village president that there's a motion on the floor.

“I'm sure there's a motion on the floor, because I have six people who can make one,” Hatton said.

Village attorney Bob Sullivan said he had no report for council.

“What?” Hatton asked. “Nothing to report when a contract is not legally going forward?”

Sullivan told Hatton he had not been asked to review Hinga's contract.

Hatton said she is only allowed to talk to the village attorney if given permission by the village manager. That rule, initiated in December 2016, holds true for all council members.

“I did ask to speak with you the Friday before the (June 19 disincorporation forum),” Hatton said to Sullivan, “and the village manager said, 'No, you can't speak with them because you waste their time. Pay your own counsel.”

Burns disagreed. “That is blatantly false,” she said.

During the public comment period, former Village Councilman Bill Meyers said he is “appalled at the dysfunction of this entire council process. To see where this village has gone in the last five or six months is beyond disturbing. I know each of you have the best interest of this village in mind, but there has to be some sense ... of what is right and what is wrong.”

Meyers said he hopes everyone attends the Ottawa County Election Committee sufficiency hearing on the recall petition language local businesswoman Michelle Hanks filed against Hatton on July 5. That hearing is scheduled for today (Wednesday, July 19).

Related: Hatton confident heading into recall hearing

Hatton began speaking about the December 2016 rule changes, but was told not to interrupt Meyers' public comment.

“I'm answering his question,” she said. “They don't want me to answer you because those rules and procedures strip the president.”

“I didn't ask you a question,” Meyers said.

Sullivan told Hatton she needs to allow the public an opportunity to speak.

“I thought you were through and I was attempting to answer your comment, which I don't have much opportunity to,” Hatton said. “Is there any other person who would dare to comment?”

Hatton said there are “10 people on one side (council and village staff) and the person who has the mandate on the other side.” Hatton said she has a mandate because she won the November 2016 election, running on a platform of disincorporating the village.

When asked why there aren't more disincorporation supporters at public meetings, Hatton said that is because they are afraid to speak. And Hatton said she believes council passed the new policy about speaking to the village attorney and other village professionals to “shut me down.”

Related: 120 people attend disincorporation debate

After the meeting, Powers defended Hinga and his contract.

“I don't know what (Hatton) was talking about,” he said. “She wasn't making any sense to me. Marv Hinga is a very professional and very skilled adviser to this council.”

Powers said Hinga's expertise has greatly helped the village's financial picture.

“It's unfortunate that he has to come here and be treated this way,” Powers said. “He doesn't deserve it. He's a good guy.”

Burns said she's heard a lot of support for Hatton's recall.

“What I'm hearing from the general public and seeing on social media is people have had enough,” the village manager said. “She's lobbing grenades. It's not productive. I think there's obviously some sour grapes on her part. She's upset with Marv. She's upset with me. We have targets on our backs.”

Doss said Hatton's behavior at Monday night’s meeting was “inappropriate.”

“You can't treat employees like that,” she said. “To see an employee who works really hard to be treated like that, it's not right. That makes me angry.”

When asked Tuesday if he had any comments on Hatton's talking points at Monday's meeting, Hinga replied: “After comparing parking restrictions to the Holocaust, there is nothing Ms. Hatton says that I find surprising or believable.”

Related: Hatton compares parking ordinance to Nazi Germany

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