Thursday, July 21, 2022

Supervisor, trustees condemn reported comments

From left, seated, are Township Clerk Esther Hurst,
Supervisor Tim Bowman and Treasurer Vincent Warren.
Standing from left are Trustee Tim Rush, Trustee Peggy Morgan
and Trustee Matt Oddy. Not pictured is Trustee Don LaPorte who
was excused from the July 12 meeting.  Photo by David Willett.
Sumpter Township officials publicly expressed their fury and frustration at the allegations of racism and incorrect reporting recently published in a local newspaper.

The issue which has simmered among the officials for weeks, came to a boil during a July 12 board meeting when Supervisor Tim Bowman threatened legal action against a local newspaper which had published accusations of racism leveled at him by Trustee Peggy Morgan. Morgan accused Bowman of being racially prejudiced against Nelson Po based on his Filipino heritage during a loud and contentious confrontation following a meeting June 23. 

Bowman responded during an earlier meeting that he considered Morgan's shouted allegations a “verbal assault.” He explained that her claims were completely without basis as his son-in-law is Filipino as is his 2-year-old granddaughter.   

During the meeting last week, Bowman's son-in-law Tyler Thomas, who is of Filipino heritage,  spoke to the board.

 Thomas told the board how significantly Bowman had changed his life and brought him to Sumpter when he was “homeless with parents who didn't care what I did.That man changed my life. When you call somebody that (racist) you're not just hurting Tim Bowman. He owns his own business which I work for, which I one day will take over. The business that has been in his family for generations. When you say stuff like that you are ruining that for my future and my family.

“The generation we live in now is the cancel generation. People will shut you down completely. You will not be in business,” with remarks like that, he said.   

Later in the meeting, Bowman, visibly emotional, spoke about the damage the publication of the allegation did to him and his family, directing his comments to Morgan.

“That was a very bad thing to say. You hurt my family, you hurt me. You've hurt everything about us. That's going to stick with me for a lifetime when somebody Googles my name, that's going to come up. I am not a racist person, never have been,” Bowman said. 

The issue erupted in June following discussion of a developer's attempt to secure the approval of two members of the board for a proposed project. Trustee Matt Oddy said he deliberately withheld the name of the developer involved in an effort to avoid any misunderstanding or gossip about what took place. He and Deputy Supervisor/Trustee Tim Rush told the board that the meeting was immediately curtailed when it became obvious the developer's plan was dependent on a marijuana facility. Sumpter Township officials have twice voted against opting into the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Agreement. Rush and Oddy said they ended all discussion with the developers when this became a topic and urged them to bring their proposal to the full board of trustees.

Oddy stressed that he was only recounting the meeting in an attempt to thwart any rumors or misinterpretation.

Following adjournment of that meeting, however, Morgan angrily accosted Bowman and publicly accused him of racism regarding the proposed development. She also shouted at Rush and township attorney Rob Young during her tirade. At a meeting June 28 Morgan admitted to the outburst saying she “was angry.”

Morgan claimed the refusal of the board to name the developers was based on prejudice against Po.  That claim was later printed in a local newspaper, which prompted the ire and denials from officials, who had repeatedly gone on record that Po was not at the meeting and that he was not involved in the project.

During the meeting last week, Oddy proposed the board officially request a retraction or correction from the newspaper regarding the article. He reiterated that board members had repeatedly explained that Po was not involved in the project prior to publication of the article in question.  

“You printed that not only Mr. Bowman but Mr. Young (township attorney Rob Young) were perpetrating a discriminatory act against Nelson Po,” he said.  “There is not more of a vile act than to attack somebody's character like that where, like Mr. Bowman said, it will be there forever.”

Oddy continued with a list of multiple erroneous and sensationalized stories about members of the board of trustees and past officials, including a racially insulting cartoon of a former supervisor, insulting cartoons about the police chief and various financial misdeeds officials were falsely accused of committing that were reported in the publication. 

“These unwarranted, unjust attacks not only harm the individual targeted, but it harms our community, harms businesses, harms employees trying to look for jobs here. When they read the supervisor or attorney in the township is a racist, why would they want to come to his community?” Oddy demanded.

Rush said he believed the publication of the misinformation was a “deliberate attack on the community. Nobody could be that ignorant,” he said. Rush took legal action against the newspaper last year and received an undisclosed financial settlement.  

Young, too, said he was “shocked” at the publication of such an allegation despite the  repeated past conduct of the newspaper.  “I don’t care what you say about me, but to criticise that man (Bowman)?”  he said.

“To make that kind of statement, that’s about the sickest, vilest thing  I’ve ever heard,” he said.

 Bowman, obviously overcome with emotion, said that both the newspaper and Morgan could expect to be “talking to a lawyer very soon. You're not getting away with it. You're not ruining my life.You're not degrading me in front of my family.”