The Grand Haven Township Board of Trustees declined to reimburse Clerk Sue Buitenhuis for legal fees she incurred following a complaint filed against her by another employee.
Before the board voted on Monday night, several community members spoke on behalf of Buitenhuis and encouraged the board to reimburse her.
Grand Haven Township resident Susan Robertson submitted a letter stating she was in favor of the reimbursement.
Robertson said she is concerned that if elected officials are in need of legal representation from action “in managing the governmental affairs of the township,” the township should pay for legal fees.
Robertson said she is also concerned that an elected official carrying out specific duties may be open to challenges in personnel disputes, not in potential violation of state, federal or local laws or regulations.
“However, in this case, my concerns are twofold: first, that the common good is not served if qualified individuals are dissuaded from running for office for fear of having to suffer a financial loss as a result of their service; and second, that duly elected trustees may hesitate in doing what they think is required in protecting the public trust,” Robertson wrote.
Buitenhuis also read several e-mails from community members that supported her.
Trustee Laurie Larsen noted that the vote was about a policy in place about whether a fee is reimbursed without prior approval, and not Buitenhuis’ integrity.
Supervisor Karl French submitted a letter to the board citing six reasons he voted against Buitenhuis’ request for legal reimbursement: the clerk hired her own attorney instead of the township’s attorney; the complaint was an internal personnel matter and didn’t require a second attorney; the township requires receiving prior consent before incurring legal costs outside of Scholten- Fant; the clerk has not revealed the amount of legal expenses; and the clerk’s attorney sought an injunction against Township Manager Bill Cargo.
“The township’s attorney on three different occasions has written legal opinions that it is improper to use public monies to pay the clerk’s personal legal bills,” French stated. “I will not ignore the advice of the township’s attorney and ask the public to pay the clerk’s personal legal expenses.”
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