The White Lake Township Board of Trustees has unanimously appointed Greg Baroni as the new township supervisor to replace Mike Kowall, who is now serving in the state Senate.
Baroni’s appointment was approved during a special Board of Trustees meeting held Monday, Jan. 24.
Like at previous meetings, motions to appoint Trustee Mike Powell failed in a 3-3 vote on Jan. 24, with Clerk Terry Lilley, Trustee Carol Burkard, and Baroni all voting against the motion. Similarly, a motion to appoint Baroni as supervisor also failed 3-3 on Monday, with Treasurer Jay Brendel, Trustee Todd Birkle, and Powell voting no.
The board had been deadlocked at a 3-3 stalemate between the supporters of Baroni and Powell in numerous other meetings held since Kowall first announced his resignation at a Dec. 21 township board meeting.
However, after a special meeting held on Jan. 6, the board in an attempt to move forward from the stalemate opted to open the supervisor search to the public. Out of eight eligible applicants, the board interviewed three candidates on Thursday, Jan. 20.
After a motion to appoint Baroni failed at 3-3 again at another special meeting the following day, Brendel made a motion to appoint Bill Pierson, one of the outside applicants, as supervisor.
Pierson, a resident of White Lake for 27 years and a practicing lawyer for 30 years, said in his interview with the township’s governing body that he believed the board should not resort to a special election to fill the position. Furthermore, in both his interview and his cover letter, he stated his support for Baroni as supervisor, while expressing his interest in any resultant trustee vacancy. He also said he would be unavailable to start his duties as supervisor until March 1 if he were appointed, because he would be out of the country and would need time to “wind down” his job with the Oakland County Corporation Counsel.
Nevertheless, Brendel, Powell, and Birkle all voted in favor of appointing Pierson, while Lilley, Burkard, and Baroni voted no, with the result being another 3-3 deadlock.
After meeting with Brendel over the weekend and a lot of thought, Pierson decided it would be “in the best interest of the township to withdraw my name for the supervisor position.”
With Pierson withdrawing his candidacy, Brendel then stated that after meeting with Baroni over the weekend, he could not abide having a supervisor who was associated with General Motors; hence, he switched his support back to Powell.
Baroni was a GM employee for more than three decades.
A motion to appoint Powell as supervisor at the Jan. 24 meeting failed at 3-3. Powell then mentioned that he agreed with a statement by White Lake resident Thomas Johnson. Johnson at the beginning of the meeting asked the board members to forget any agendas they may have and to do what’s best for the township, pointing out that the money used to fund a special election could instead be put to better use to buy a police patrol car or fire equipment that could be used to save a life.
Powell stated that by supporting Pierson’s appointment as supervisor, he had tried to come up with a compromise to break the stalemate. Birkle agreed that he too changed his vote to break the stalemate, and he felt that he could not vote for Baroni as he wanted someone with professional municipal experience, which he felt Powell possessed. Since it didn’t seem like the deadlock would be broken, Birkle suggested that the vote “should go on a ballot” to let township voters decide on a new supervisor.
Lilley, who stated at the Friday meeting that he has been unable to sleep and his stomach has been a “constant basketful of ulcers” since the last December meeting, then stated his belief that picking a relatively unknown candidate such as Pierson was as much “grandstanding” on the part of Birkle, Brendel, and Powell as it was for them to vote against Baroni. He further added that he didn’t appreciate having the statement that they sought a compromise “thrown back in our face” just because they “deviated” from their chosen candidate.
Both Birkle and Powell took exception to being accused of “grandstanding,” since they have known Pierson personally for many years and felt he would make a “top-notch” supervisor.
Pierson then said he would have accepted the supervisor position had it broken the stalemate among the board members. However, since the stalemate couldn’t be broken when the appointment was within the board membership or outside of it, Pierson stated his belief that he would be better suited in a trustee position than the supervisor job.
Burkard then made a motion to appoint Baroni, which resulted in another 3-3 deadlock.
Birkle, wanting a timetable to plan for the special election, became aware, along with other board members, that a special election couldn’t take place until May. At that point, Brendel asked and was granted a 10-minute meeting recess.
Over the course of about 20 minutes, members of the board occasionally left the room to confer with each other, while remaining cognizant of the fact that only three members could meet together in private at one time. Any more than three board members meeting in private could be constituted as a closed meeting because there would be a quorum of the board conferring, which would violate the state’s Open Meetings Act.
The board had apparently reached a consensus decision during the break.
Brendel made a motion to appoint Baroni as supervisor, which Powell supported. The result was a unanimous decision in favor of Baroni, which the assembled crowd answered with applause and cheers. Several residents congratulated the board on being able to reach a decision, while all board members stated their desire and intention to work together as a team without holding grudges.
Baroni will fulfill the remainder of Kowall’s term as supervisor, which is set to expire at the end of 2012. The supervisor earns approximately $75,000 a year.
Now that the supervisor seat has been filled, another seat is now vacant on the board. The township will be accepting applications for Baroni’s trustee position over the next two weeks.