Grand Haven Tribune: Resident demands resignation of village manager

Resident demands resignation of village manager

Becky Vargo • Apr 15, 2019 at 10:05 PM

SPRING LAKE — When it was her turn to give her report at the Spring Lake Village Council meeting Monday evening, Village Manager Chris Burns apologized for “using slang” on social media recently.

She was referring to comments posted on her personal Facebook page in reference to the administrator of a satirical “Village” Facebook page.

Burns said that she and her husband coached Special Olympics and that they have a son with autism.

“I of all people should have known better,” she said.

In return, the satire page administrator, Lee Painter, a village resident, asked council members to hold her accountable.

“I feel that Mrs. Burns is not someone who should represent us in Spring Lake,” Painter said. And then he asked her to resign.

Painter created a satirical Facebook page in February because he saw similar pages for other communities.

“I did so because I just wanted to have a good time,” he said in an interview prior to the meeting.

Painter said he had not planned for the page to run for a long time and imagined it would only have a handful of followers. The page was called “Village of Spring Lake” and it included the village logo and the same photo used on the official village government Facebook pages.

While the content was intended to be satirical, village officials claimed that some people thought it was the official government Facebook page and took offense to comments on it.

“We’ve had people on there say, ‘I’ll never spend another dime in Spring Lake,’” said Village Downtown Development Authority Director Angela Stanford-Butler in a previous Tribune story. “I go on (Facebook) Messenger and tell them it’s not us and how to report it. It’s been a thorn in our side.”

When the satire Facebook page promoted an event at Stan’s Bar, attendees informed officials that Painter was the administrator of the page. Not long after that, an Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office deputy showed up at the Painter family’s door. 

Painter claimed that the officer kept insisting he take the page down and that it was illegal to have the page. Painter said he believes that the officer, Sgt. Jason Kik, was sent there because he is friends with Burns.

“She sent him over to bully me,” Painter said.

Painter said he changed the name of the page, adding the word “satire,” so there would be no mistaking the content. He also called the Sheriff’s Office and asked to file a complaint about Kik’s tactics.

That was March 29. Painter said he has had no return calls after making contact with an officer. He also has not been ticketed or arrested since the original confrontation.

Painter said that he called Burns to talk about the issue.

“She was laughing at me and mocking me about my living situation,” Painter said, adding that she was very insulting to him.

That’s when he decided to talk to the media for a story and also decided to keep the satire page up and running.

“I really didn’t foresee this coming,” Painter said, adding that he had started the process to take down the page after the event at the bar.

Painter said this is the only satire page he handles. Similar pages for Grand Haven and the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office popped up “with the infamy of this page,” he said.

During Monday’s meeting at Barber School, several people spoke in support of Painter and his right to have the web page, as well as their concern over Burns’ reaction to it.

Noah Converse told Burns he appreciated her apology.

“But show us that you mean it by apologizing to the man you hurt,” Converse directed to the village manager.

A couple of village residents commented on negative interactions with Burns, while others called for the manager to hold herself to a higher level and not react on social media.

In Burns’ defense, Spring Lake Township Manager Gordon Gallagher said in the 30 years that he has worked in government service, “Chris Burns is one of the finest municipal executives I’ve ever worked with.” He wondered out loud why more people didn’t show up to applaud the village manager’s efforts when she helped obtain dollars to fund the $2 million sewage project or $200,000 to upgrade Exchange Street.

Another resident, Darcy Dye, said Burns is somebody with integrity, “somebody who has done a very good job holding us to fiscal realities.”

Once the public comments concluded, Village President Mark Powers said that he knows that Burns and Kik care about the community and, “by and large, try to do the right thing.”

Although he saw Painter for only the first time Monday night, Powers said he thinks what drove the man to create the page was something good. Despite the conflict over the content of the site, “I don’t see any broken bones or empty wallets,” Powers said. He apologized to Painter and noted that he was one of the many decent people in the community.

Powers asked that everyone work together to move past the situation.

After the meeting, Painter thanked the Village Council for giving him the opportunity to have his say, but “no matter what, we’re still going to demand accountability,” and that he would use the Facebook page as a tool to do that.

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