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January 24, 2013

‘Questions & Answers’ offered regarding Constantine village clerk/treasurer appointment issue

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Written by: Bruce Snook
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Constantine Village Office sign

Voters in the Village of Constantine will go to the polls next month to decide the fate of an ordinance that provides for the appointment, rather than election, of the village clerk and treasurer.

The ordinance was adopted by the Constantine Village Council on a 6-to-1 vote on October 1, 2012.  MacKenzie Strawser, who was serving at the time as village president, cast the dissenting vote.  Since then, enough signatures were collected on petitions to force a referendum on the ordinance.  The resulting election is scheduled for Tuesday, February 26th.

During their December 17th  meeting, council members acted unanimously to adopt the following ballot language for the upcoming election:

PROPOSAL TO APPOINT

VILLAGE CLERK AND VILLAGE TREASURER

Shall the Village of Constantine Ordinance No. 239 which provides for the appointment of the Village Clerk and the Village Treasurer by the Village Council be approved?  (  ) Yes  (  ) No

In anticipation of the upcoming election, Village Manager Mark Honeysett has prepared a series of ‘questions and answers’ regarding the issue.  During a brief interview with the River Country Journal, Honeysett explained why he did so.  He said, “I’ve heard a lot of reasons why the position shouldn’t be appointed and I wanted the rationale that I used known for why the clerk and treasurer should be appointed.”  And he added, “I think that the surest way to ensure that the most qualified people to do the job are placed in office is for candidates to be interviewed, background checks, and then appointed.”

To hear the interview with Mark Honeysett – recorded by Bruce Snook of the River Country Journal click here (1:03).

To view the questions and answers prepared by Mark Honeysett, click on the following link:  Clerk & Treasurer Appointment Q & A.

The registration deadline for voting in the February 26th election is this coming Monday (January 28th).






One Comment


  1. Scott Chiddister

    I consider Mr. Honeysett a great manager and a personal friend, so I make these comments with no disparaging intentions, but this is a topic that he and I agree to disagree on. Conversely, our former clerk and I have sometimes had heated disagreements in meetings and offline. So my position on this topic aligns contrary to who I may like or dislike, it’s more of sense of what checks and balances our forefathers put in place that we give away so freely with so little to nothing given in return. I ask that the people of our village take the opportunity given to take back what is being attempted to be taken from us.

    Mr. Honeysett provided his reply why the positions of clerk and Treasurer should be appointed. Allow me to provide a perspective of why they should remain elected.

    1) Why appoint the clerk and treasurer?
    Mr Honeysett–”Appointing the clerk and treasurer helps to ensure that the people in those positions are qualified to do the job. An election with multiple candidates results in the most popular person being selected. In the case where only one person runs for the office, that is the person who gets the job, regardless of their qualifications.”……

    My response: OK, Can’t the same be said for any other currently elected position of our Council such as Trustee or Village President–So apparently it’s OK to leave all other positions of the Council to the flaws of the voting public that can sometimes yield the most popular rather than the most qualified to represent us, yet we are making a special case here on the mere chance of a problem that may or may not happen some day down that road, The fact remains that it hasn’t been a problem before and its not a problem that exists today. So why tinker with it?

    Additionally, the clerk has the unique position of being the eyes and ears of the people in what information is reported to the public via meeting minutes. Putting the public’s source of information under the authority to hire and fire at the discretion of those the clerk is supposed to watching is inherently flawed by design. Simply put, its a design that allows the foxes to be in charge of the henhouse.

    Equally, the Treasurer should not be under the authority of the Council, Mayor or Village manager as they are an independent check and balance of the people as one of multiple signers of any checks. It’s not an independent signature if their job is at the discretion of the Council,Mayor or village manager.

    “2) Why take up this issue now, if you think the village has qualified people in those offices?
    Mr. Honeysett– “I approached the council with this idea when I learned that neither the incumbent clerk nor treasurer was running for office…..”
    My reply: This is factual, but I believe incomplete. I don’t mean to imply Mr. Honeysett is being disingenuous–quite the contrary. But given the honor to have served as a former Trustee of this village I had been approached several times over my several terms in office if I would support these positions being appointed, and I vehemently opposed this and said I would fight tooth and nail to keep them independent. So one might suggest that the composition of today’s council might be more agreeable to such an arrangement to have these two positions appointed than that of past Council.

    3) “Opponents of the ordinance have expressed concerns that the appointed clerk and treasurer would answer to the manager and that the manager would have too much influence, even over the meeting minutes that the clerk prepares. How do you respond to that?
    Mr Honeysett–” First, I have never suggested that the clerk and treasurer answer to the manager. The ordinance calls for the president to make the appointment with the council’s confirmation.”………

    My response to that is that the clerk/treasurer positions (if appointed) would become answerable as subordinates to the Council, Mayor and our Village manager when in fact by design they should be equals as independent checks and balances for the aforementioned reasons provided. Do I Trust and like the folks we have in office today?…for the most part, Yes. But this measure lives well beyond who is in office today. I can remember a former Council, Mayor, and village manager that served with that I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw them..the thought of having a group like that having even more influence and control over our money and information that we get to see scares the sh!t out of me–plain and simple…and there’s nothing preventing a similar make up of our Council and village office long after these well intentioned folks currently in office are long gone. Let’s also not forget we are not so far removed from the scandal of a State Treasury Investigation in to our water/sewer billing practices not so long ago. So these concerns are not unfounded pie in the sky apprehensions…these are hard learned lessons of somewhat recent history within this village.

    “4) What about the concern that the appointed clerk and treasurer would not have to be village residents?” My reply–This would accurate that the Council could not make residency a requirement for employment (sorry, that’s the law…). I would like as much of our local government as possible to be comprised of folks that live here so they can live with the decisions and see how those decisions impact the lives around them and discussions that take place. Making decisions may seem like the hard part of public service, but the real challenge I found in public office is sometimes living with the decisions (especially the bad ones) afterwards, and I think that burden that goes with the job should include the person controlling the information (clerk) and the person helping control our money (the treasurer)–let’s keep them local by keeping them elected.

    “5) Another argument that has been made against appointing the clerk and treasurer is that they offer checks and balances, and that appointing the positions compromises that.
    …..Mr. Honeysett– “What I fail to understand is why anyone would conclude that an appointed clerk or treasurer is any less equipped than an elected one to perform that function. In fact, the process of appointing the offices should include an assessment of the candidate’s ability to serve as a watchdog” ….
    My reply: Because it should be up to the people to pick their watchdog!! If you are picking out a watchdog, do you want to be the one picking out the dog or do you leave that choice up to those that are intended to be watched? Is that a viable concern in local government? I once served on a council that put together a committee comprised of a police chief, police commissioner, police lieutenant and the village manager that were tasked with providing a recommendation between the choice of either a) staying with our police department or b) contracting with the sheriff’s department was in the peoples best interests. Even if the sheriff’s department had been the most qualified answer, do you really think a committee with a stacked deck like that would ever make such recommendation. And that’s just one of many examples that I can talk about.

    6) “Are there any other arguments for appointing the clerk and treasurer?
    Mr. Honeysett– “I would ask anyone who doesn’t favor this idea to consider the question, “Are the jobs critical?” If their answer is yes, what cogent argument can be made for not selecting the best qualified candidate?”……
    My resposne– All the other jobs of that Council are also critical, yet they are elected. It’s really quite simple… It should be up to the people to decide who is their watchdogs are rather than leaving the decision up to those that these positions are intended to watch.

    Mr. Honeysett continues… “I would also point out that ours is the only village in St. Joseph County that still elects our clerk and treasurer and that roughly 70% of 204 General Law Villages in Michigan appoint those positions.”

    My response to that is our County has an elected clerk and Treasurer as does our Township have an elected clerk and Treasurer, so I don’t have to look far and wide for reference points for these positions being elected when they exist practically in our own back yards. And who already does or doesn’t do anything should have minimal bearing on what is right for us…that’s like your kids saying gee mom, all the other kids get to do it, so it must be OK for me. So I guess if we are the only village doing it, good for us, maybe that means we should be proud to say ware the only one that is doing it right (or right for us anyway).

    Mr. Honeysett continues……… “I spoke with every village in Michigan, and while I didn’t actually interview a lot of them, those who were asked why they made the change gave answers ranging from “No one ran for office so we had to appoint” to “Unfortunate experiences dictated that a change was necessary.”
    My response to that is that irrespective of those other communities problem, the fact remains that it has not been nor is it currently a problem for us. Therefore, I am not inclined to want to give up my checks and balances for a problem that hasn’t existed nor exists today.

    I would encourage my local government to not worry about problems that don’t exist with such measures and focus its energies dealing with the REAL problems we face today such as water/sewer rates, the impacts of a bypass and our downtown, and what is our plan moving forward in the face of declining revenues to our village coffers.

    I hope you all will accept these answers in response why these two offices should remain elected offices as they have–in short “if it aint broken, quit tinkering with it.”

    Respectfully,

    Scott Chiddister



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