A closed session held by the Reese Village Council “went off the rails” when two councilmembers started shouting at each other so loudly it could be heard outside in the hallway.
Reese President Pro Tem Tim Elbers and Trustee John Weber were involved in the spat, said Paul Keast, president, Reese Village Council.
The meeting was closed for an “executive session to review the manager’s evaluation.” Closed sessions are allowed under the Open Meetings Act when they involve personnel issues. However, at the end of the closed session, Keast said Elbers and Weber began a side discussion that should have been held during an open part of the meeting.
“Basically, we were pretty much done with the subject of the closed session and there was a disagreement between a couple of councilmembers, which happens from time-to-time, and things became emotional and they kind of went off the rails,” said Keast.
A recording of the exchange can be below. (Story continues under audio clip)
Weber did not return an email to The Advertiser asking him to comment specifically on the exchange.
Elbers did not return several phone messages and emails left.
Keast said the two were arguing over the village’s fire department and Gerald Ellison – the former village president and assistant fire chief and treasurer of the fire department.
Ellison is under investigation by Michigan State Police with regard to the fire department’s finances. Last week, Ellison was sentenced to 11 months in Midland County Jail for attempted larceny in a building, which is a felony.
“It went from the subject we were discussing (the manager’s evaluation) to another subject and we tried to regain order at that time and it kind of got out of hand,” Keast said. “Sometimes it’s hard to regain order when emotions are high and so what we did is came out of closed session and adjourned immediately after that.”
Keast said he tried to come out of closed session “shortly after that eruption” and a gavel can be heard banging several times in the recording.
“It was not intentional to discuss anything out of the public eye,” Keast said.
Keast said the council was done discussing the purpose of the closed session and “at the end of that discussion, two councilmembers were discussing another issue concerning the fire department and Gerald Ellison, the past treasurer of the fire department.”
Keast said “it was basically a rehash of old stuff, like kicking the dog over and over again.”
At one point during the exchange, one of the councilmembers can be heard shouting “You want to do my job? Then I would suggest you keep quiet…”
At another point in the recording one of the councilmembers can be heard saying he has been “the biggest supporter of the fire department.”
To which the other councilmember said “Biggest supporter? You’ve done nothing but badmouth the fire department…don’t badmouth our chief!”
Throughout the exchange Keast can be heard banging the gavel and saying, “That’s it!”
“Somewhere along the line it escalated immediately and…tried to get it back under control so we could come out of closed session, which you need a motion and a second for,” Keast told The Advertiser.
Ultimately, Keast said the motion and second were made, the meeting reopened and immediately adjourned “because it was way out of hand.”
Keast said the matter “should not have been in closed session and we tried to get out of closed session, but I couldn’t shut them up.”
Keast said he doesn’t expect the matter to come up at the next meeting since the investigation into Ellison and the village fire department “are in the prosecutor’s hands.”
Mark Reene, prosecutor, Tuscola County, told The Advertiser last week that he expects the investigation to conclude within the next two weeks.
The Reese Village Council meets the second Monday of every month at 7 p.m. The next meeting is set for Oct. 10.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser.