White Lake Township residents packed the Township Hall for a special meeting during the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 6 to see who would be appointed as the township’s new supervisor, and once again they left disappointed and frustrated.
The White Lake Board of Trustees members remained as divided as they were on Dec. 21, when they last voted on a new supervisor to replace Mike Kowall, who vacated the post after being elected in November to a state Senate seat. Separate motions to appoint Trustee Michael Powell and Trustee Greg Baroni to the supervisor position each ended in a 3-3 stalemate on Jan. 6. Clerk Terry Lilley and Trustee Carol Burkard continued to support Baroni, while Treasurer Jay Brendel and Trustee Todd Birkle remained supportive of Powell. Baroni and Powell each voted last week in support of their respective appointments to contribute to the 3-3 votes. Motions are defeated by tied board votes.
With the township board remaining deadlocked, a special election may be held to fill the supervisor position. According to township attorney Greg Need, the township board has 45 days from when the position became vacant (on Dec. 31) to fill the opening through an appointment. If the board is unable to or chooses not to make a decision, it then must notify the state of Michigan and hold a special election for voters to decide who the next supervisor will be.
At the start of last week’s meeting, several residents expressed their desire to have the board make a decision that afternoon.
One resident stated that they would rather not see the township remain without a supervisor or have the decision go to a special election, as residents had previously elected “six minds on the board to do it for us.”
Thomas Johnson told the board that he was “glad that you’re sitting up there and not me” because both Baroni and Powell seem to be very qualified. However, he also asked the board to make a decision very carefully and not to “rely on a good buddy but instead think about who can handle the future” of the township. He also stated that the board should “drop the good-old-boy” routine and make a decision.
Other residents spoke up on the behalf of Baroni, saying he offers a “nice breath of fresh air” and is “the guy who can lead you to the future,” while citing Baroni’s involvement in the White Lake community through various clubs and organizations, such as the Optimist Club and White Lake Historical Society.
Baroni said he was in “awe” of the support he received from the audience and that his “appointment would be for the people, not for myself, not for my friends. My interest is for White Lake.”
Baroni has 34 years of managerial experience at General Motors, including dealing with United Auto Workers (UAW) grievances, as well as handling national and local contracts. Both Burkard and Lilley acknowledged Baroni’s corporate experience as a reason they endorse him for supervisor.
Lilley said he was “very supportive” of Baroni being the next supervisor because he would bring “freshness to the community,” as well as “experience with the unions.”
Powell cited his 20 years as a township resident and three decades of experience working with township boards, city and village councils, and other agencies as reasons he’s qualified to be the township supervisor. He also mentioned his experience with road, water, and sewer projects, in addition to the relationships he has developed with politicians, local leaders, and other civil engineers engineers.
Powell also declared that he was very active in his church community.
Before last week’s board votes, Birkle claimed he was “not speaking in favor of either candidate.” However, he said if board members were again unable able to reach a decision on an appointment, they should form a “tight timetable” to take open applications and hold interviews and make a decision before a special election is necessary. Brendel concurred with Birkle’s stance.
While Lilley and Burkard continued to give reasons for supporting Baroni throughout the meeting, Birkle and Brendel did not, prompting one audience member to inquire as to their reasons for supporting Powell.
Birkle then cited Powell’s experience working with other townships and six years of service on the White Lake Township board. Brendel agreed, adding that Powell already has many county and state connections. He further added that he felt Baroni lacked the government experience to run White Lake.
With nobody willing to “roll over” and change their vote, as they believed that would be detrimental to the community, board members agreed to accept applications from the public in a 4-2 vote. Burkard and Baroni voted against the measure.
Applications are due by Friday, Jan. 14. The board will next meet on Tuesday, Jan. 18 to continue discussing the issue.
If board members are still unable to decide on a candidate after their 45 days expire, a special election will be called. However, the election wouldn’t necessarily be between candidates of the township’s choosing. Instead, the county Republican and Democratic party committees would each appoint a candidate. The only qualification for the candidate is that they must be a registered voter of White Lake. The cost of a special election is estimated to be around $15,000.