Michael Wilcox, Publisher/Editor
Here’s to all elected local officials. Many of us don’t realize how difficult their jobs can be. Some don’t get paid, some earn a per diem rate like $50 or less a meeting. None of them can consider the job their only source of income. Yet because they are closest to the electorate, they are directly in the line of fire when a controversial issue crops up.
It is much easier to be a state lawmaker, and for sure, a Congressman or Senator. In those positions you get paid well, and the benefits are the best in the business. You live and work in Lansing or Washington D.C., and usually are far removed from locals who might have a beef. Not so for the low men and women on the political totem pole- local elected officials.
A prime example would be the Ogemaw Heights (West Branch) School Board. When a middle school principal was charged with sexually abusing a student and was found guilty, parents became outraged in that district. Then when eight teachers and one school board member wrote letters on behalf of the guilty teacher, many community members went ballistic. They demanded the school board member resign and the teachers be fired.
Guess who had to make that decision? Why, the unpaid, totally voluntarily school board members, who out of a sense of responsibility to their children and community took on the job of school board member. I wouldn’t want to be in their position. They decided not to fire the teachers, and now they probably will face a recall. They were damned no matter what decision they made.
Closer to home, Hayes Township lost a highly respected public official because of accusations of misappropriations of funds. Kevin Breese, a retired high ranking state cop, had held the position for some time. Ironically his wife, Anna, who had worked for Hayes Township since 1999, and was deputy treasurer, was accused of taking money from the township coffers.
An audit was ordered, and it was found that Anna had received $4528.94 too much over the years, mainly from a miscalculation of cost of living, and health insurance reimbursements. The amount was not really out-of-line, because others employed by the township, has also been slightly overpaid. Auditors said there was no attempt by Breese or his wife, to embezzle money from the township. The mistakes that were made were minor, and common.
As an act of good faith, Breese paid the overpayment back to the township. He also paid $7060.00 for the audit. In my opinion, picking up the cost of the audit was unnecessary, and a gesture all Hayes Township residents should appreciate.
“He is an honorable man,” said Supervisor Dr. Ray Augenstein. “This was an honest mistake, There was no criminal intent. All the money has been returned even though it didn’t have to be.”
Anna quit over the accusations on April 6. Her husband tendered his resignation on August 10. Both were victims of an over-reacting group of citizens who found the township official guilty before they were proven innocent.
Sometimes we assume everyone in political office is on the take. They hold those positions because they enjoy the power and the money politics bring. For the most part, that is not true at the local level. Township board members, city officials and school board members usually serve because they want to help their community. Their eyes are rarely on the power or money, but more likely on the self-satisfaction they receive for helping others in their community. As their constituents, we need to understand that.