Michael Clinesmith

Ushered out: Clerk forced from meeting over Bible quote

Michael Clinesmith went all Old Testament on the Vassar Township board.

And it earned him a police escort out of the township hall.

Clinesmith, the township clerk, stood up late in Tuesday’s monthly board meeting, handed each board member a sheet of paper and began quoting from Proverbs 29:12: “If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked.”

“I feel like I am dealing with Satan here,” Clinesmith said before he read the quote.

“Get that the hell out of here. Now!” Supervisor Bruce Foether said. “You are not bringing the Bible into a public meeting.”

Foether then began banging his gavel, trying to regain order as people in the audience told Clinesmith he couldn’t bring his prayers into a public meeting.

When Clinesmith persisted, Foether asked the sheriff’s deputy attending the meeting to remove him.

“Please don’t leave your laptop open and your door unlocked, Mike,” said treasurer John Stack, referring to the July 29 meeting when Clinesmith walked out of the session and left his computer running and his office unlocked.

Clinesmith took care of both, but didn’t leave without offering additional comments.

“I will say that my guilt is gone. I am dealing with wickedness here,” he said.

“I feel like I have been dealing with lies and untruths. If you have trouble with the Bible…”

All of this stemmed from Clinesmith’s decision in May to not pay himself, trustee Bill Gray and Stack their full month’s wages. He said they each had been given a month’s wages when they first started in their township roles, but none of them had worked a full month, so he was making the adjustment. But the board voted to void the shorted checks and ordered Clinesmith to reissue new ones with the full amount, noting that all of them had been serving for years and the law didn’t allow for adjustments to be made so long after the fact.

But Clinesmith has refused to issue the new checks.

On Tuesday, Foether said Clinesmith also is withholding Gray’s pay for eight hours of training he had in April – money that was included in his wages.

“The board voided that check,” Clinesmith said.

“I know you are not going to pay him what is required,” Foether said, “but I still think you ought to pay for his training.”

With that, Clinesmith launched into his Bible message.

“Anyone who thinks the Word of God should not be in a meeting, that is false,” said Stack after Clinesmith had left. “It has nothing to do with that. How it is presented is a different story.”

Ben Partridge, the zoning board of appeals chairman, then said the deputy clerk should take over Clinesmith’s duties and if not she should be asked to resign.

Onna Clinesmith, Michael’s mother and deputy clerk, said if the board wanted her to, she would step up and take over. Stack pointed out that doing so is listed in the Michigan Townships Association’s red book of legal responsibilities. So she came out of the audience and took her son’s seat at the board table.

“Because the board asks,” she said. “The board is the one in charge.”

The board then approved paying Gray for his April MTA training session.

The clerk’s exit also came after an earlier clash he had with Stack over the monthly payment to Republic Services for township-wide garbage pickup. 

That became an issue in May, when Michael Clinesmith reacted to an April 12 notice from Chase bank that there weren’t enough funds in the garbage account to pay an $18,393 check to Allied Waste, a Republic subsidiary, for garbage removal. He posted to his “Michael Clinesmith for Vassar Township Clerk” Facebook account calling into question the procedure used by the township and the role Stack had in the shortfall. On May 7, the bank sent the township a letter indicating it was a banking error – the checks sent to the township were for the wrong account. The bank asked the township to send the checks back, said it would issue new checks and added it would issue a cashier’s check at no cost to cover the returned check.

But the damage was done and, in June, Stack said he no longer would pay that bill. The issue was exacerbated by the clerk’s unwillingness to remove the misleading postings from his Facebook account.

Stack grudgingly made the payments in June and July.

Michael Clinesmith said the township needs new checks and new signatories in order to change the garbage payment over to him. He suggested Stack make the payment one more time so the township can get those things done. 

While Stack chafed at having to do it one more time, he said, “I have to (do it). It is not fair to the residents. They’ve paid a year in advance.”

“I agree, 100 percent,” said Foether. “We have only been discussing this for three months now.”

The bill that arrived July 30 was double what normally is paid because the July payment was late – the due date is usually several days before the board’s monthly meeting.

“Be thankful we’re not getting charged a late fee,” said Stack, who always made the payment on time.

Foether asked if the clerk is going to get the checks.

“There are some questions about what you need for the information on the checks,” he said. “I am trying to keep up with what I am doing now. If I have time I’ll order it, otherwise if someone else wants to work on that, that is fine too.”

Onna Clinesmith said she’d been working on it and they need routing numbers for the checks because the Chase branch in Vassar is closing in October.

“I don’t think the routing number has anything to do with the location,” Stack said.

Stack said the clerk knows how to order checks because he does it for the general fund. And he said the clerk knows the account number because he gets the monthly statement for the garbage account.

“Please order the checks,” Stack said, “so the residents, who already have paid their money for garbage, don’t have to be afraid and wonder if their garbage is ever going to be picked up.”

“Again, I feel like you are putting stuff on us …,” Michael Clinesmith said.

“Wait a minute, Mike,” Foether said. “John was doing it for 14 years and never made a mistake. Chase made a mistake and he can prove it. You took it away from him and said it should be done by you. He told you how to do it.

“Now you are telling us after three months, when you are supposed to get the checks, that you haven’t gotten them. And you are trying to find out information. I just don’t understand this.”

“I am just asking you, Mike, to order the checks so we can get this process done,” Stack said. “I already called Chase bank, they sent signature cards to you to sign so you can send them back to them by fax, so we can get this accomplished and get checks ordered. Then the next time, you’ll have it and you can make it out.”

Clinesmith said he is waiting for help from the auditor so he can add the garbage account to the automated system he uses for the monthly checks. But Stack asked why this is taking so long.

“It is easy for the board to say, ‘order the checks,’” Michael Clinesmith said. “It is easy to make a motion to do that.”

“It is easy,” said Stack. “I could probably do it in an hour over the phone. But it is not my responsibility. It is yours. I am not taking on something else.”

Mark Haney is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at haney@tcadvertiser.com.

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