Sunday, December 12, 2010
Grafton Decision Rebuke To Both Sides
Caldwell rendered his rulings Friday in a "mail decision" which wasn't available even to the case participants until Saturday afternoon.
At the outset the judge admitted he was powerless to rectify the "toxic relationship" at Grafton Township. "For the most part, the deleterious relationship between the Board and the Supervisor does not infringe upon, affect or injure any right," he wrote, saying the best he could do was clarify the balance of powers between the two sides.
Caldwell ruled Supervisor Linda Moore could fire both Township Administrator Pam Fender and Township Attorney Firm Ancel-Glink without an OK from Trustees. However, he also said Moore can't remove Township financial records from the Grafton Offices, prevent trustees from examining records or hold back bills and invoices. Although not an order, Caldwell also found that in the case of dueling meeting agendas the first thing the Board should do vote on which one to follow. In practice, that would usually be the trustees' version. He likewise found the Supervisor isn't the only one who can enter a contact for the Township, finding the Board itself can do so. Again, in practice, that would mean the trustees can do it voting as a group.
In immediate terms, Township Administrator Pam Fender is out on her ear. Caldwell accepted Moore's argument that the Administrator's position the Board created early this year was superior to the Supervisor's and so, unlawful, since the Supervisor is supposed to be the Township's "head, leader, the chief." The Board approved the position in January in an attempt to outflank Moore but in April it added a proviso that Fender would get three months severance if she was fired for no cause. Caldwell's decision said Moore could have fired Fender for "insubordination" several times. Although not explicitly, it seems to say she did so but doesn't say when. All of that probably leaves plenty of room for argument and recrimination at the next Grafton Board meeting.
The Administrator's spot was the brainchild of Keri-Lyn Krafthefer whose firm, Ancel-Glink, is also out on its ear as Township Attorney. Caldwell found the Supervisor can hire one only with the advice and consent of the rest of the Board but can fire it unilaterally since the Legislature didn't say otherwise and would have done if it meant to. Moore spent three months in late 2009 jamming the firm through as Township Attorney but by early this year was clearly disenchanted with Krafthefer's counsel.
Even though Moore fired Ancel-Glink, however, the judge decided the firm doesn't have to give back well over $225,000 in fees so far since a lot of it stemmed from work it did defending the trustees against Moore's original suit. Indeed, although the firm is no longer the Township Attorney, Caldwell ruled it will remain as "special counsel" to the trustees for the remainder of Moore's suit against them and their countersuit against her. He also ruled the Board has to pay the fees of John Nelson, Moore's attorney, too. Those are thought to amount to around $30,000 at this point.
Caldwell's orders are only preliminary so both sides can still try to convince the judge he was wrong if they want to before he enters permanent injunctions. Except for all the money spent, Caldwell's rulings return the Township to about where it was 15 months ago when Moore and Trustees were already screaming at each other. Caldwell said he couldn't do anything about that except suggest they act like "rational and reasonable adults".
Judge Caldwell's full 37-page opinion can be read here:
The bulk of the opinion after page 2 is mostly Caldwell's summary of testimony and evidence which he found "on the whole...immaterial and irrelevant," albeit "interesting, even entertaining for some." There's also a lot of recitation of statutes. The meat of the thing starts at page 29.