In My Opinion
‘Gotcha’ politics makes everyone a loser in Yankee Springs
Leadership is not for amateurs and nobody proves that truth more than the board of trustees who are upsetting residents of Yankee Springs Township.
For those following the shenanigans of the township board, it’s evident these elected officials didn’t finish near the top of their class in leadership and board governance skills.
Watching these pretenders operate township business so unprofessionally should concern every resident of the township.
For months now, the board has been divided in what appears to be a 3-2 power struggle between Supervisor Mark Englerth and Trustee Shanon Vandenberg on one side and Clerk Janice Lippert, Treasurer Alice Jansma and the township board’s newest member, Larry Knowles, on the other.
At a recent meeting, in an effort to diminish Englerth’s authority as supervisor, Knowles, Lippert and Jansma voted to curtail the supervisor’s ability to consult with township attorney Catherine Kaufman without prior notification or authorization of the entire board.
This is the second time the board has tried to micromanage the relationship with its attorney.
In February, the board had proposed a new policy – on the typical 3-2 vote – that would allow any board member to contact the township’s attorney, “whenever they need guidance or advice.” Then, before the authorization was passed, Lippert moved to add to the proposal an addendum that all emails sent to the township attorney by board members must be copied to all other board members.
Knowles, who is also the director of the Gun Lake Area Sewer and Water Authority, asked Kaufman to develop the wording for a special resolution on the matter, which was brought up toward the end of a special board meeting.
Acting on Knowles’ request, Kaufman drafted a two-page resolution that was handed out shortly after asking to have the matter discussed. After subsequent discussion, Englerth accused Knowles of blindsiding him with the action and for the timing of the information after the meeting had already started. It appears the new language excludes Englerth and Vandenberg from any direct contact at all with the attorney.
Knowles said he introduced the resolution because he was concerned about the township’s legal fees. Yet, it appeared to be retaliatory action against Englerth, who had asked the attorney to review police reports from three separate criminal investigations against Knowles – none of which led to any charges.
For months now, Englerth and Knowles have been at odds with each other and their anger or distrust seems to be creating a crevice that’s fracturing this board.
One of Englerth’s issues is whether Knowles should even be allowed to serve on the township board, since he is employed by GLASWA, which could be considered a conflict of interest.
Plus, since Knowles was elected to the township board in November 2018, it appears he has done whatever he can to diminish Englerth’s authority, going so far as to having him replaced as the township’s representative on the GLASWA board by a 3-2 vote in an April township board meeting. No need to repeat how that township vote lined up.
Lippert added her contribution to the plot prior to that vote when, at the Jan. 10 meeting, she informed her township board colleagues that she had been in contact with the other three members of the four-member GLASWA board, all of whom told her Englerth had been disruptive and was causing “turmoil.”
Later, Lippert admitted that she had “misspoke” when providing information that led to the removal of Englerth as the township’s representative on the board. Lippert had originally claimed GLASWA board members were her source of the information. But, after being called out by Englerth publicly, admitted, “I only repeated the numerous comments and complaints that were overheard at the post office, grocery store and other places.”
Lippert went on to say, “I still believe it is in the best interest of our users of the sewer and water services that they will be better served by Alice Jansma (who replaced Englerth on the GLASWA board) remaining on the GLASWA board.”
Englerth did not mince words in his reply to Lippert at a subsequent township board meeting.
“What you told this board and this public was not the truth, period,” Englerth said, adding that he had talked to the other three members of the GLASWA board to see if they had talked to Lippert and they said they had not.
It appears it was just another effort of the ‘Gotcha Club’ – Lippert, Knowles and Jansma – to get Englerth off the board.
In June, the township meeting came to a screeching halt after a heated exchange over a dispute to allow former township trustee Michael Boysen – who was defeated by Knowles, 493-405, in the August 2018 primary – to serve on the planning commission. After 2-2 stalemate vote was taken, with Lippert absent from the meeting, Jansma and Knowles were pressured to explain their no votes to approving Boysen for the planning commission.
Planning commission chairwoman Cathy Strickland also demanded an explanation, saying Boysen was “very qualified” and is “the only candidate we have” for the opening. Knowles later said he wasn’t happy with the makeup of the planning commission.
“Only two of the six current planning commission members are lake owners while the rest are not,” Knowles said. “So, appointing Boysen wouldn’t fix the problem.”
Unbelievably, there’s still more to this twisted Yankee Springs saga – such as the veterans' memorial. The fact that a detailed site plan is not on file seems to consume Knowles. Referencing a concept drawing that was submitted in 2017, Knowles mentioned at the March meeting that he couldn’t find a record of the project budget.
Englerth responded, “This thing never had a devised plan. It’s moved and it’s evolved.” He reminded the board that the project came from the inspiration of late township constable and Barry County Undersheriff Jim Orr, who died in 2016.
“What we, what Jim Orr, envisioned may not be what we have today, but what we do have we should be proud of,” Englerth said. “Even when you have a good idea, other options sometimes appear. For God’s sake, I hope this is never completed. I hope it gets added to every year – I hope in 10 to 20 years there are more park benches and that there’ll be even more landscaping.”
What a mess. Even an effort to establish a memorial gets caught in the fray.
This is no way to run township government.
First of all, the attorney, who complained at the township meeting in July about being used as a tool of retaliation by board members, bears some responsibility for letting salt enter this wound. As part of its contractual agreement with the township, legal counsel should have stood up to that small group of board members and reminded them that, if the board expects to get anything done, then board members must learn to work together.
What kind of message are these officials sending to the residents of the township whom they were elected to serve and for whom they were commissioned to work together in the best interests of the taxpayers?
So, what should the taxpayers of Yankee Springs Township do now?
I think it’s time for residents to consider recalling the entire board and start fresh with new faces and a new direction for the longtime betterment of the township.
“Leadership in today’s world requires far more than a large stock of gunboats and a hard fist at the conference table,” Hubert H. Humphrey said. That is especially true at the local level where these men and women are not only board members, they’re neighbors as well.
Leadership is a process of visioning, initiating, guiding and encouraging others to accomplish positive change. Under the current circumstances, it’s not likely that much will be accomplished for the taxpayers who reside in Yankee Springs Township, one of the fastest growing townships in the county.
Shame on these people.
It’s time for taxpayers to step up and demand action to guarantee a level of professionalism and decorum not seen in Yankee Springs Township in some time.
Fred Jacobs, CEO,
J-Ad Graphics Inc.