Thursday, June 18, 2020

Sumpter trustees OK lawsuit against treasurer

Members of the Sumpter Township Board of Trustees approved the preparation of legal action against current Treasurer Kenneth Bednark at a special meeting last week.
The lawsuit requires Bednark, or the township deputy treasurer, to immediately process and deposit payments made to the township for water and sewer services or for tax bills. The payments have been accumulating for several weeks without action trustees explained during the meeting and residents have called asking why their checks have not yet been cashed.  Bednark and his deputy have refused to open the mail, any envelopes dropped in the box in front of township hall or any payments hand delivered to township hall for months, according to members of the board.

Reportedly, Bednark has not been at his township hall office for several weeks, even prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, and has not attended multiple board meetings, before and since the pandemic, while still collecting his salary. In previous emails to the members of the board he has stated that the issue is lack of personnel and that the “treasurer's office is not the water department's mailroom.”
During the special meeting June 10 called specifically to discuss the situation, township attorney Robert Young advised the board members that the dispute about the processing of the payments had not substantially improved since he was first consulted about the conflict in July of 2019. Young reminded the board members that he previously provided his own legal opinion regarding the statutory duties of the treasurer and had consulted with the Michigan Townships Association attorney who agreed with his research that the treasurer has a statutory duty to accept and process the payments.
Bednark and his deputy insisted that the mail should go to the clerk's office or the office of the finance director to be opened and or processed, Young said this was a violation of state statutes and contrary to acceptable financial practices. He said the township auditor would not find this practice acceptable and it could impact the validity of the upcoming township audit.
Young told the board that it is not acceptable for the finance director or the clerk preparing the invoices to then process the payments. He said such a procedure was a marked deficiency in control and could allow for the “ability to manipulate” records.
“Nobody is authorized but the treasurer or someone directly supervised by the treasurer to process these payments. It is the statutory duty, by law, of the treasurer to process and deposit these payments,” Young emphatically stated to the board members.
Bednark and his deputy have refused to open or process any envelopes addressed to the township, instead sending them to the clerk's office or to the clerk in the water and sewer department. The deputy treasurer has refused to open the payment envelopes both verbally and in email, Young said.
Township Clerk Esther Hurst explained that mail addressed to the township is received and sorted by her deputy clerk who then date stamps the envelopes as they are received and distributes them to the appropriate township offices. The deputy treasurer has been returning the unopened envelopes to the clerk's office, where they are date stamped again, she said. Hurst said there was now a “huge stack” of envelopes that have not been opened or processed and that the clerk's office had received numerous inquiries from residents about why their checks had not been cashed. The envelopes, trustees agreed, could contain “a substantial amount of money.”
Board members unanimously agreed to two motions, the first instructing Bednark, his deputy clerk or treasurer's office personnel to, within 24 hours, begin performing the statutory duty of opening the envelopes and processing the payments for deposit.
The board members also unanimously approved a second motion authorizing Young to immediately begin to prepare legal documents, affidavits and other evidence and to employ an outside law firm to handle litigation seeking a writ of mandamus from the Third Circuit Court requiring Bednark to comply with the state statutes requiring the opening and processing of the payments by the treasurer's office if he had not done so by Friday, June 12.
According to township officials, Bednark responded to Young by email last Friday stating, “Present open envelopes to the treasurer's office and the payments will be processed. Young countered that the board instruction is clear and that opening the envelopes is part of the treasurer's statutory duties. Young added that the lawsuit would go forward.
Bednark then responded that the deputy treasurer and the clerk in the treasurer's office were instructed to begin processing water billing payments starting Monday.
“While there is a disagreement about who is legally required to open the water department mail, I think it is in the best interest of the township to comply,” Bednark responded.