Tensions rise over Independence Twp. HR legal budget increase

By Megan Kelley
Clarkston News Editor
At its meeting on June 4, the Independence Township Board of Trustees voted to increase the township’s human resources legal labor budget. The board voted 6-0 to increase the budget by $45,000. Trustee Jim Tedder was absent from the meeting.
The original HR legal labor budget for the current fiscal year was $10,000. A number that was approved based on previous nonunion contract years. However, township documents state that because of unforeseen transitioning between HR managers, trustee issues with employees and IWA (inter-entity work authorizations) contract adjustments, the township is approximately $23,000 over budget.
“We’ve had some things with the department and some issues that were unpredicted. I was trying to be very conservative at the beginning but things happen and I couldn’t predict the future,” said township Supervisor Jose Aliaga.
Treasurer Paul Brown voiced his support for the amendment given what the money is being used for.
“You want to be conservative when you’re dealing with employee issues and I’d rather you call the labor attorney too much than not enough,” Brown said. “I have no problem with the idea that you can’t predict when you’re going to need to make that phone call. There are a 100 employees here and you want to do the conservative thing and that’s making that call and making sure you get it right.”
Trustees Ronald Ritchie and Sam Moraco raised concerns, not with the increase itself but with how long it took for an amendment to be brought forward for approval.
“My only problem is I don’t really understand the situation, and we’ve talked about it in the past, but to me when you’re making this budget amendment to wait to where you have to increase it by almost five times the budget, it seems like you’re a little behind the curve on that. You should have made this call a lot sooner,” Ritchie said.
Aliaga noted that he is trying to be proactive moving forward and the township may not need all of the $45,000 added to the budget.
Moraco agreed with Ritchie and took the opportunity to question Aliaga about his management experience.
“I think that you could have eliminated a lot of this had you had management experience and acted on the issues that were brought to you last fall and have dragged on eight months and still nothing has been done,” Moraco said. “My concern is that, it’s not personal, but you don’t come from a management background and you’re the head of personnel. So, what are you doing to gain the necessary training to be the head of personnel so we aren’t paying lawyers to make the decisions?”
Aliaga responded by stating that the expenses don’t just come from him, they come from other departments as well, adding that unpredicted “attacks from board members to employees on Facebook” have forced the township to use more money than was originally budgeted.
While Aliaga did not name the board member in question, Moraco volunteered the information himself stating that the board member Aliaga was referring to was him.
“Don’t sugar coat it. Be honest. It’s me. Just get it out there. I’m not embarrassed about it,” Moraco said.
“As much experience as you want me to have right now, there’s nothing I can do when you go and attack employees,” Aliaga said. “Employees have a concern. Some employees even look for legal advice outside of the township.”
After some heated back and forth, Ritchie reiterated that he would like township budgets to be paid closer attention to and if it seems they will go over budget on something, to have an amendment brought to the board in a more timely manner.
The motion was made by Clerk Cari Neubeck and seconded by Trustee Theresa Nallamothu.
Discussion continued briefly after the seconded motion after Moraco requested to speak, but Moraco’s line of discussion was quickly shut down by Brown, Aliaga and the township’s attorney Dan Kelly when he began discussing his posts on Facebook where he claimed to have “called out” a “negligent” township employee.
“I’ll shut the meeting down. You can’t sit at this table and talk about employees. It’s improper and I’m not going to sit here and listen to it,” Brown said. “Stop doing it. Employees have rights. It’s illegal. They have rights.”

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