Council divided

Reed City officials hope November election will provide solution to problems

REED CITY – Each month, seven Reed City residents come together to make decisions and set policy affecting their city. Rarely do the seven agree. Very rarely. The strife on the council may be affecting the work of city agencies. In a letter to the editor published in the
Herald Review on June 6, Reed City Council member Darlene Fuller accused four other council members of breaking the law by authorizing the payment of a $4,333 bill. The bill was filed in August 2011 after City Manager Ron Marek exceeded his $2,500 spending limit, (outlined in the city charter), by contracting with Gerber Construction for improvements to the Department of Public Works garage, including new soffits, a new entry door and whitewashing. A complaint sparked an investigation by the Michigan State Police, which was dropped when police found no criminal intent by the city manager. In her letter to the editor, Fuller wrote: “Councilwoman Fuller read aloud from the charter to the council three times the significance of this breach and its consequences before Mayor Danzeisen and council members Fatum, Rathbun and Bisbee voted to approve his actions and pay the bill the manager illegally contracted for, thereby breaking the law themselves.” Mayor Bonnie Danzeisen said she voted to pay the bill because the city manager had expressed regret for the mistake. She felt the city had an obligation to pay the bills for services rendered. “We knew a mistake had been made. The city manager had apologized. The bill was owed and we thought the city should pay it,” Danzeisen said. “I was informed by the MSP detective he also thought it was a mistake rather than breaking the law.” When a similar mistake was made by the city manager in January, Fuller said that despite claims Marek was still learning the job, she thought he should be penalized. “He’s been here a year. That really is no excuse to me,” she said. The mayor believes he should not be punished for the mistake. “I feel the city manager is doing the best job possible for us,” Danzeisen said. Fuller claims other “questionable purchasing practices” also have occurred. She noted her voting record and that of other council members - Anderlohr and Scharlow - regarding the situation. “This is indeed a 4/3 council; four who wish to break the law, three who wish not to and, instead, uphold the voters’ trust,” Fuller wrote. Danzeisen said she, Fatum, Rathbun and Bisbee do not wish to break the law, but only to make sound decisions for the city. “I cannot speak for (Fuller, Scharlow and Anderlohr), but I do respect them. We all have different opinions or we wouldn’t need a council,” Danzeisen said. “We don’t always vote against each other, but there are certain issues on which we certainly have different views.” The division among city council members began with the issue of the Reed City Housing Commission, Fuller said. After Housing Commission officials reported revenue losses for the past few years, Fuller wants answers and more accountability in the department. “I think they should have to show why the repetitive monetary losses are occurring. You never get answers, even going to these meetings,” Fuller said. Claiming Reed City housing has insufficient facilities and a negative atmosphere, Fuller blames  Commission managers - and their support from certain council members - for what she considers to be a poorly functioning entity. “Marlene (Fatum) and Bonnie (Danzeisen) vociferously defend these people,” Fuller said. Danzeisen said what may look like a loss in the department is actually the RCHC using funds set aside in the fund balance account over the past few years, in adherence with regulations set by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “HUD has insisted that the RCHC use up money in their fund balance before they will release more funds,” Danzeisen said. The fiscal decisions at RCHC should not be criticized because the city itself has made similar decisions, Danzeisen said. “The city council - including Ms. Fuller - has done the same thing for the past two years. Because of the budget shortfall, we are also using money out of our fund balance in order to balance the budget,” she said. Danzeisen added the RCHC board members serve in public sector occupations, some as bankers and accountants, and are experienced in financial decision making. “They have been trained by HUD and they are the ones who are in charge of the housing commission. I have good faith in what they’re doing. “People who live there (in the housing complex), are happy and the surroundings have really been improved over the last several years. It really is an enjoyable place to walk into,” she added. Councilmen David Bisbee also attends each of the Commission’s meetings and reports the decisions that are made, she said. Aside from specific arguments between the divided council, Fuller said the root of the problem lies in the lack of oversight for Marek and department heads. “Documentation is very important and (Danzeisen, Fatum, Phil Rathbun and Bisbee) don’t think so,” she said. “That’s where we split - that and the spending of money.” What Fuller calls “accountability,” Danzeisen thinks is mistreatment. City employees have taken the brunt of the  mistreatment, she said, and they have handled it well. “I feel that our city employees work above and beyond what is expected of them even though they have not been treated well by certain members of our council,” Danzeisen said. Though arguments and harsh words may be prevalent at the council’s meetings, Fuller thinks the discord does not affect the city’s day-to-day function. “I think the business of the city functions and moves on just fine,” Fuller said. “We get the important things done. It’s when we come to accountability issues we break down.” Danzeisen said the discord may affect the city’s function, but she hopes it will improve after the November election. “I would hope their would be a solution from the election,” Danzeisen said. “I know there are several people who have taken out petitions and when you have a large number of people running for a limited number of seats, it certainly can make a difference in election results.” Former Reed City mayor and city council member Larry Emig said division on the council is a distraction. “It’s like, ‘Come on kids, can’t we get along in the sandbox?’” Emig said. He said the consistent division among council members points to a larger issue. “If you constantly have a divided council with 4-3 or 3-4, that means some people have their own agenda,” Emig said. “Quite frankly it brings embarrassment to the city. I am embarrassed by it.” During his time on the Reed City Council, Emig said the council did not argue as does the current council. Negative members on the council are the root of the problem, he said. “Negative people create a negative atmosphere within the city,” Emig said. He also hopes the election will solve the problems within the council. “This (discord) has been going on for quite some time and enough is enough,” Emig said. “We need to get positive, good people who care about the city and want to work together as a team. And that’s not going to happen with the council in place now.” Fuller, Anderlohr, Scharlow and Fatum are up for re-election in November. To run for a seat on the Reed City Council, individuals must be a registered voter and a resident of the city. Candidates must be nominated by acquiring 20 signatures from residents of Reed City on a petition. According to City Clerk Jackie Beam, seven petitions had been taken out as of last week. Petitions must be filed in the office of the clerk at city hall by 4 p.m. on Thursday, July 6. The next meeting of the Reed City Council will be at 7 p.m. on July 16, at Reed City City Hall.