Greenwood Township has become a case study in why units of government need to follow the rules, and have consequences when officials ignore policies or the law.
At their meeting this week, for example, the town board approved attorneys’ fees of more than $5,000, for calls, in part, made by employees or other township officials who had no authority to make them. It’s difficult to believe that those employees were unaware of the rules regarding calls to the township’s attorneys, since the issue has come up before.
Yet, as in the past, employees and officials faced no consequence for failing to abide by the township’s own policies or operating guidelines.
It’s a problem that became epidemic in the township in the past few years. As we’ve reported during that time, township officials regularly disregarded their own policies, and it’s raised concerns from residents and left the township hip deep in legal bills and future legal liability.
Perhaps most unsettling to residents was the town board’s flouting of the rules when it came to the township’s fire department. When the board accepted Fire Chief David Fazio’s decision to dismiss experienced department officers who had raised concerns about his decisions, it appears the board put the township on the wrong side of the law. As we reported last week, the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry has filed a legal action against the township, alleging that the township violated OSHA rules by firing department captain Jeff Maus for raising safety concerns.
Other litigation stemming from the incident is pending, so the costs of this blunder are only going to rise.
That the town board apparently discussed Fazio’s desire to fire the department’s experienced leadership in a closed meeting, ostensibly closed for a performance review of Fazio, raises still more questions, such as a likelihood that the board violated the state’s Open Meeting Law.
And with the March 2016 elections, and possible change in leadership looming, township employees and officials scurried to draft three-year contracts for fire department officers, despite department bylaws that clearly specify such positions are subject to annual election by department members. The contracts, as such, may not even be legal and could be the subject of additional future litigation.
Thanks to the recent election, there is some push to improve accountability in the township. On Tuesday, the board voted 3-2 to hire an auditor to examine concerns over abuses in the handling of the paid on-call system, which has had little oversight for the past several years. They also clarified the township’s policy regarding contacting attorneys. That’s progress, but more needs to be done.
Two of the five supervisors, John Bassing and Carmen DeLuca, are pushing to refer former clerk Ellen Trancheff’s refusal to hand over records to the new clerk to the county attorney, for possible charges. But a three-member majority is currently stalling such a request, and that’s unfortunate.
As township officials and residents learned this week, Trancheff had, in effect, stopped doing significant and important parts of her job back in September of last year, leaving it to township treasurer Delores Clark to pick up the slack.
But Trancheff understood that breaking the rules, or failing to do her job, held no consequence in Greenwood Township. It’s time for that to change.
A township can’t serve its residents when officials and employees violate laws and their own policies on a regular basis. That’s not governance— it’s chaos. And given the obvious self-dealing that went on for far too long, it’s more than chaotic—it’s corrupt. Until the town board majority is willing to face up to the problem and begin to follow the rules by which virtually every other local unit of government in our area abides as a matter of course, the anger and division in Greenwood isn’t going to go away. While we’re encouraged by tentative steps forward in recent weeks, there’s still a long way to go to get this troubled township operating the way it should.