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Twp. wrangles with legal fees

Alex Doty • Jul 21, 2015 at 1:58 PM

The request stems from an incident that occurred last year when a township employee accused the clerk of harassment.

Because of instances surrounding the allegations and what happened afterward, Township Clerk Sue Buitenhuis felt it necessary to have legal counsel represent her, since the complaint was directly related to her statutory duties.

“The township attorney, Ron Bultje from Scholten Fant, indicated that he could only represent the township," she said, "and that, ‘in my (Bultje’s) opinion, the township should only incur attorney fees to an attorney who is representing the township, not an individual.’”

On May 3, 2013, Buitenhuis made a formal request to the Township Board that her legal fees be paid according to the township’s Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual. The manual states: “Legal fees from any attorney or legal firm other than the selected township attorney will not be approved unless the Township Board has previously authorized the establishment of a client-attorney relationship with the other attorney prior to any legal fees being incurred; in that event, the other attorney shall be retained for the particular, limited purpose established by the Township Board, not for all of the purposes fulfilled by the selected township attorney.”

The board soon considered the request and requested clarification from the township attorney, but never took formal action on it, Buitenhuis said.

“I now have requested that my attorney fees be paid for as I had requested last year and no action was taken,” she said.

Township Supervisor Karl French said the township approved a similar request by Buitenhuis in 2012 as a “one-time request.” By not taking up the new issue as requested, French said that should have been enough of an answer to the question.

“To me, that seems like an answer,” he said.

Despite this, Buitenhuis has pressed on. She has referenced a Michigan Attorney General opinion that states the “township board has authority to approve the payment of legal expenses incurred for the advice and representation of a township official in his or her official capacity.”

To read more of this story, see Monday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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