GHT clerk complaint revealed

A clearer picture in the complaints filed against the Grand Haven Township clerk has come to light following the release of documents to the Tribune from the township.
Alex Doty
Jun 7, 2013

“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.”

Comments

christopher

Messy ... sounds like the clerk is more interested in protecting territory instead of looking out for fiscally responsible stewardship of public funds.

truthhurts

grow some skin people

RN97MSN10

I know Sue and I can honestly say that I would NOT want to work with her. She is someone who looks out for trouble and then finds who she can tattle to. She doesn't follow the rules- but is likes to make sure everyone around her does. I don't like her and I don't trust her. This sounds like a game of one upsmanship. I am glad someone finally has stuck it to her.

Citizen

Funny, I got a different impression - that someone who bears responsibility for certain (or all) aspects of Township finances was not accepting work products that had not followed procedures or otherwise were inadequate. While perhaps insensitive and socially clumsy, the clerk was performing her duties in identifying those issues. Ignoring problems or accepting poor work in order to not offend someone would be a dereliction of those duties.

More problematic seems to be the lack of follow-through in providing further guidance or training, even if there was suspicion that those needing training lacked the capabilities to grasp the concepts.

However, knowing only what's written in the Tribune and not having any first-hand knowledge of the situation, this impression could be very wrong.

Peter56

The clerk needs to learn how to deal with people and use proper etequet and good leadership style. Micro managing never works it just makes you disliked and shows what a control freak you are.

ghtbuc

This clerk is notorious for one thing...bullying. It's not tolerated in the schools and it shouldn't be tolerated in the workforce. And if she's so fiscally responsible, why is she asking the township to pay her legal fees? This is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money. She needs to do HER job, let others do THEIR job, and play nice in the sandbox!

ghtbuc

This clerk is notorious for one thing...bullying. It's not tolerated in the schools and it shouldn't be tolerated in the workforce. And if she's so fiscally responsible, why is she asking the township to pay her legal fees? This is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money. She needs to do HER job, let others do THEIR job, and play nice in the sandbox!

newspaperlawyer

Lets see ... Elected officials.... The Twp Clerk and Twp Supervisor who both have issues. Both have court complaints filed against them. Then we have the Twp Manager who is a bully in himself... If anyone has ever attended a twp board meeting you would hear how the Twp Manager Dictates how it is going to be. I thought all these people work for the tax payers of Grand Haven Twp. Sounds like its time for a good house cleaning.

christopher

Very, very sad. The fact is that Mr. Cargo and the rest of the board appear to be trying to do the right thing for the township and this rogue is being mean because she did not get her way in the decision.

We need to learn and lead gracefully ... not simply by force. No bullying.

christopher

Why on earth should township residents have to pay the clerk's legal fees in this matter?

tigersrule13

Since when is expecting someone to do their job correctly considered bullying? By these standards anyone receiving any negative comments on their job performance evaluation should be filing bullying complaints. In reading this, what's confusing to me is why someone without an accounting background would be appointed to head the township's accounting and assessments department to begin with. With a salary of $80k, one would think finding a qualified candidate, WITH an accounting background wouldn't have been too hard? As clerk, Buitenhuis is accountable for some of this person's work, yet she has to go through Mr. Cargo for any communication with her now. Since Buitenhuis can't even talk to this employee, how can she give her support or be responsible for getting her trained? What it boils down to is this employee does not want the clerk saying anything to her except to encourage her on the great job she's doing. Even if that isn't true.

ghtbuc

The article doesn't say that the person appointed isn't qualified. It states that Buitenhuis "isn't happy" with the qualifications. Big difference! Sit through a board meeting sometime...it doesn't take long to realize that she is hyper-critical of EVERYONE except herself. This all seems to stem from the fact that Ms. Buitenhuis didn't get that job and is now taking out her frustrations on everyone else...and it needs to stop!

dougmacdonnell1

Tiger, $80k today may seem like a bunch. However, it gives you the same economic power of earning $27k in 1984. It isn't much. But you are correct on other topics discussed. Quite frankly, this is really a $130k p/yr position. You pay peanuts ya get monkeys...

justthink

The issue here may be not one but several bullies and no apparent leadership. It is interesting that Mr. French during his first election campaign vowed to fire Mr. Cargo and now it seems that only Mr. Cargo is in charge. As an elected official, Ms Buitenhuis is answerable only to the people who elected her. As an employee of the Township Ms. Chalifoux is answerable to Mr. Cargo, who is answerable to the elected officials. It appears that Mr. French exerts no leadership of the other elected officials or oversight over Mr. Cargo. It appears Mr. Cargo, whose job is to oversee day to day operations has assumed much more than managerial control. He should be finding ways for township employees to cooperate, collaborate and work with the elected officials. And the whole complaint thing is ridiculous. Under what authority can a township employee allege a non-civilly actionable complaint of harassment? What can the township personnel committee do? Tell everyone to play nicer? Ms. Buitenhuis is legally responsible for actions executed under her authority as clerk. She therefore should exert primary oversight on what is done in her area of responsibility. What a waste of taxpayers money. Hopefully the newly elected Trustees will fill the leadership void and concentrate on getting the job done.

Joe_township

If my accountant had a history like what is being reported here and was making errors on UIA reports and other federal documents, as well as making late IRS payments and overpaying accounts (by $75,000!!) I would be looking for another firm to handle my bookkeeping! Thank you, Ms Buitenhuis, for holding our township paid staff accountable. It seems to me that if the delegated employee was doing the job well, there would not be a story here. So sad to read anonymous comments here that are very libelous.

ghtbuc

Very libelous? Ms. Buitenhuis makes libelous comments on a regular basis, to just about anyone she can point a finger at. Most of this article is "according to her attorney..." - seems to me it is a bit biased. I am confident this will all air itself out, and the picture will appear much different than it does now.

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