An astonishing abuse of power. That’s the only way to describe the events leading up to last Friday’s special meeting in Greenwood Township, during which the town board voted 4-1 to approve lucrative three-year contracts for all its township employees, including fire department officers.
It was a transparent act, intended to ensure that the gravy train for loyalists continues despite the uprising of citizens that threatens to unseat the self-serving cabal that has run Greenwood Township for years.
The township’s newest supervisor, John Bassing, who cast the single no vote on the contracts, has pushed for real reform, but has gotten no support from fellow board members to date.
At a time when township residents have clearly expressed opposition to the way things have been run, and with township elections approaching, the town board’s decision to approve three-year contracts is little more that a middle finger salute to residents and taxpayers. The majority on the town board likes to claim that the opposition represents a mere handful of critics, but their own actions last Friday belie that claim.
What a contrast from 18 months ago, when the town board summarily dismissed experienced fire department officers, who had questioned the inexperienced new fire chief’s actions. At the time, the board justified those dismissals noting fire department officers were at-will employees. An investigation of the firings by state officials found that, at least in one case, they appear to have been done in retaliation for raising legitimate safety concerns. Now, the new officers, all hand-picked by the new fire chief, have guaranteed jobs and hefty salaries for the next three years.
The contracts for fire department officers fly in the face of the department’s own bylaws, which call for the annual election of fire department officers. Town Clerk Ellen Trancheff justified that deviation on Friday, noting that the fire department, which she helps administer, routinely fails to follow its own rules anyway.
The employee contracts also seek to codify positions that township residents have been trying to eliminate for the past several years, including Trancheff’s lucrative 911-coordinator position, a job unique to Greenwood Township, and the township’s planning director.
Since losing her full-time township assessor position following the county takeover of assessing duties last year, Clerk Trancheff has appeared fixated on finding ways to fill her financial shortfall. Her demand for an 85-percent pay increase, which was spearheaded by Chairman Kirsten Reichel last summer without even appearing on the town board’s agenda, was only the first step. By codifying the 911-coordinator job as part of the fire department administrative assistant position, this guarantees an ongoing salary even if Trancheff loses her clerk’s job in the upcoming election. Talk about a sense of entitlement.
The rate of pay being granted for some of these part-time positions, particularly fire department officers, when calculated on an hourly basis, would make most Twin Cities attorneys green with envy, and vastly outpaces any compensation being paid by any other area township or city for anything. And this doesn’t include the additional pay fire department members receive for any time spent on calls, training, or business meetings. “Volunteering” has an entirely different definition in Greenwood Township than anywhere else in the Northland.
Unfortunately, the tenure of Chairman Reichel reflects a pattern of rewarding allies and running roughshod over the desires of many township residents who regularly attend almost every town board meeting to express their concerns. Last month, she excoriated those in the audience in a profanity-laced tirade, and most recently told them she just “didn’t care” what they think because she is leaving office next month.
This is not how township government is supposed to work. While townships are frequently governed by a relatively small handful of individuals, in the vast majority of cases, township officials keep a tight rein on spending and give great weight to the desires of township residents.
Townships are not meant to serve as money trees for a handful of insiders. Township employees typically work for modest salaries. Township volunteers are generally just that. Greenwood residents rightly feel they’ve been abused by their own government and last Friday’s special meeting was just the latest example of continuing bad faith.