“March of this year, the person who heads up these two departments (accounting and assessing) filed a new complaint against Sue for harassment,” said attorney Judy Bregman, who is representing Township Clerk Sue Buitenhuis.
The complaints center on several e-mails that Buitenhuis had sent to the department head, Denise Chalifoux.
“A lot of them are pointing out errors, procedures that aren’t followed and procedures that may not exist,” Bregman said of the e-mails. “And that’s what most of what she’s complaining about, is that Sue has critiqued her performance through this series of e-mails to other people.”
Added Bregman: “She’s claiming that (Buitenhuis) is harassing her or bullying her. That is what the complaint is about.”
Based on information obtained by the Tribune from the township through a Freedom of Information Act request, Chalifoux claims that Buitenhuis has been constantly sending unfriendly e-mails to her and others.
To read the complaint and Buitenhuis' response to it, download the RELATED FILES (PDFs) below this story.
“Since 2008, when the Township Board approved the ‘merger’ between (the assessing and finance departments), I have been subjected to nerve-racking, unfriendly and unpleasant e-mail remarks from Clerk Buitenhuis,” Chalifoux said in the complaint. “Clerk Buitenhuis has been discourteous, harassing, threatening, intimidating and insulting to me, to Township Board members, my immediate supervisor, my staff and outsiders of the township.”
Chalifoux also stated that they have received no support, guidance, encouragement, training or direction from Buitenhuis, but instead are ridiculed.
The merger of the two township departments five years ago was not supported by Buitenhuis.
“It was a 6-1 vote that the departments be merged,” Chalifoux said. “I had some concerns about a person who didn’t have a background in accounting running a department.”
After the merger took place, Buitenhuis was required to sign a "memorandum of understanding" so that she would delegate everything to the new person. Although delegated, Buitenhuis remains responsible for how the job gets done.
“Part of the problem that started developing is that the accounting department is responsible for performing some of Sue’s statutory responsibilities,” Bregman said. “At some point, there were issues about to whom her duties were going to be delegated, and what kind of say-so she has in that.”
According to Bregman, Buitenhuis isn’t happy with the qualifications of the delegated employee.
In her response to the harassment allegations, Buitenhuis claims that township officials are only concerned with saving money rather than what is best for the township.
Bregman said there is also tension between Buitenhuis and Township Manager Bill Cargo "about who should be doing this stuff and how it is going.”
Bregman noted that Buitenhuis doesn’t have any oversight over the person who is doing the job, nor the right to interact with her.
“We have a policy that basically says everything goes through the superintendent/manager,” Buitenhuis said. “If I see something that I have a question about, I have to ask him. I can’t question her directly.”
Buitenhuis said that her resolution to the situation would be to make changes so that the duties of assessing and finance are separated. She also wants to have some oversight over the position.
“Cargo has told me the board voted for the position, so he’s not going to change it unless the board wants it changed,” the township clerk said. “I sent an e-mail to the board stating my concerns, making the request.”
Cargo said that he disagreed with Buitenhuis' assessment of the performance of the accounting and finance office.
“I respect Clerk Buitenhuis’ accounting skills and believe that these skills are an important asset for the township,” he said. “However, we have disagreed regarding the efficacy of the merger of the accounting and assessing departments in 2008.”
Cargo said that from his perspective as a manager, he notes the following positive highlights:
— The reconciliation issues and general ledger issues that existed in 2008 were immediately corrected.
— The merger saved the township about $300,000 over the past five years.
— The department has improved both internal controls and the use of its accounting computer software system.
— The township has received “clean” audits every year since the merger.
Cargo said he hopes the dispute will result in something positive.
“The conflict that the board is addressing provides a unique opportunity for the township to further improve collaboration between and among elected officials and staff,” he said.
The next step in the process involves the Township Board considering if there is any validity to the complaint. A meeting regarding the issue scheduled for this week was canceled.
“The meeting wasn't held because the township's website went down (Wednesday) morning, and so there was a question of whether we would be in compliance with the 18-hour posting requirement of the Open Meetings Act,” Buitenhuis said. “To be safe, we chose not to continue the meeting.”