The West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees has approved resolutions regarding trustee compensation in which three trustees can have part or all of their meeting stipends from 2009 to 2011 diverted to a benevolent fund for the Water and Sewer Department.
The measure passed by a 5-2 vote, with Township Supervisor Michelle Economou Ureste and Trustee Steve Kaplan casting the two “no” votes.
The issue first arose in 2009 when Trustee Larry Brown, with the knowledge of the township board, didn’t accept his $125 meeting stipends and instead requested that the township budget be amended so the stipends could be diverted to a fund put together to assist needy township families with their water bills.
“I never took any money and I agreed that we should modify the budget. We approved things along that line,” Brown said. “I don’t know how you can shut the water off in homes with young families.”
Then in 2010, Trustees Gene Farber and Howard Rosenberg joined in donating to the fund by each having their meeting stipends reduced to $112.50, with the difference going into the water and sewer benevolent fund.
However, Ureste and Kaplan argued that a trustee has to receive the stipend in order to be reflected on tax documents and recently brought the issue forward as part of a declaratory judgment suit filed in Oakland County Circuit Court.
“You still have to receive (the stipend) as part of your income; you can’t dictate where it goes. You have to touch it first,” Kaplan said.
Ureste and Kaplan cited state statute MCL 42.6, which states that a township official’s salary shall not be decreased during an official’s term of office as long as that person’s responsibilities are not diminished or unless the official consents in writing to the reduction.
Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Rudy J. Nichols wrote in his opinion that the plaintiffs’ request for declaratory relief in regards to this issue is proper, that relief may be granted, and that the donation of pay to a township fund isn’t proper under the authority presented.
The township is awaiting a final order to be issued by Nichols regarding the trustee compensation issue.