GHT clerk on hot seat

Alex Doty • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:41 PM

An apparent dispute involving two Grand Haven Township elected officials has raised the question of whether legal fees should be paid for it.

At a recent Township Board work session, trustees discussed whether the township would be willing to pay for attorney fees incurred by Clerk Sue Buitenhuis, who is allegedly involved in the dispute with an unidentified official.

The result of the discussion was mixed views as to whether one should be funded.

“I think that it is important that I have someone that can represent me,” Buitenhuis said during the work session. “Obviously, there is a board member out to do something against me, whether it is justified or not.”

Buitenhuis also said she is concerned with how information regarding the alleged dispute was made public since it was discussed only in closed session.

The allegations that would require legal representation are still a mystery.

The Township Board met April 29 in closed session to consider charges made against a public official of the township, at the request of that public official.

“We are just investigating at this point,” Trustee Laurie Larson noted during the recent work session.

Despite the discussion, Township Manager Bill Cargo said Tuesday that the Township Board hasn’t approved spending any money to reimburse Buitenhuis for legal representation during this period.

Buitenhuis has noted that Michigan law grants that certain legal costs can be paid under specific circumstances.

This isn’t the first time that there have been alleged issues surrounding Buitenhuis and others in the township. Cargo said the Township Board approved spending $2,375 in September 2012 to reimburse Buitenhuis for legal representation related to an alleged complaint that was lodged against her.

To try and get a clearer view of the issue, the Grand Haven Tribune filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain Buitenhuis’ personnel file. While this was being processed, Buitenhuis filed a request in Ottawa County Circuit Court on May 20 in an attempt to have an injunction that would stop the release of that personnel file. Judge Jon Hulsing denied the request.

To read the court document (Buitenhuis v. Cargo, download the Related File (PDF) below this story.

In her request, Buitenhuis stated that she believed that Township Manager Bill Cargo was “planning to stuff her ‘personnel file’ with documents which are considered confidential and not to be placed in a ‘personnel file’ according to (Michigan law).”

Buitenhuis' request also stated that she wants to “maintain the integrity of her office and the election process, which should not be polluted by the township's hired superintendent attempting to play the role of plaintiff's employer, when it is she who employs him.”

The Tribune also requested to view documents on Tuesday limited to files maintained by the township's human resources director, but was not able to view them. According to Cargo, this information can’t be made available for review without Buitenhuis reviewing it first.

“She has not had a chance to review that material,” Cargo said.

Buitenhuis declined Tuesday to comment on the issue.


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