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In My Opinion


Yankee Springs Township cabal is at it again


What is the purpose of a township board?

If you live in Yankee Springs Township, it appears that the purpose is to spend taxpayer money for expensive additions to buildings as some sort of monument glorifying dysfunctional government.

That’s what they’ve got in Yankee Springs Township: Government dysfunction.

Last August, I wrote about the “gotcha” politics making everyone a loser in Yankee Springs. In case you’ve been out of town, I can catch you up with the latest episode of This Terrible Township Board Turns My Stomach:

The 3-2 power struggle on the board continues. In one corner, we have Supervisor Mark Englerth and Trustee Shanon Vandenberg. In the other, we have Clerk Janice Lippert, Treasurer Alice Jansma and the board’s newest member, Larry Knowles.

If it sounds like some sort of pitched battle, that’s no accident. It is. And it’s just about as pretty. Suffice it to say, not one of the members of this board is blameless.

I won’t revisit all the twists in this sad tale as each side tries to usurp power from the other. But the poor public, those constituents who voted in good faith for elected officials to represent their interests and make wise decisions, are the losers.

Right now, those voters are looking on like hapless victims.

The plot thickened last Thursday with a board vote to authorize bids on a $898,500 project to renovate and add on to the Yankee Springs Township Hall.

On a 3-2 vote – Knowles, Jansma and Lippert allied against Englerth and Vandenberg, no suspense there -- the board approved spending $95,500 to have the engineering firm Fleis and VandenBrink provide design development services, construction documents and bid documents for the proposed project at the township hall at 284 N. Briggs Road.

Witnesses in the audience – those unfortunate taxpaying residents – watched in disbelief.

Who’s running the township?

Just three people appear to be calling the shots and they are expressing their intention of spending nearly a million dollars of taxpayer money to feather their township hall nest. They want an addition -- mostly to accommodate private offices -- for a township building that’s open limited hours during the week for government officials who don’t spend much time there.

Why do all these officials need private offices?

We can think of a dozen great uses for taxpayer money and it sure isn’t to create private offices for some craven township officials who can’t get along with each other.

Longtime residents in the audience said they were appalled.

What made it all worse is how the action came before the board in the first place:

The idea had been brokered during a special meeting the day before when the board looked at options for the township hall that included renovation work at the current site as well as the feasibility of building a new township hall next to the fire station on M-179.

Then, the next night, at the start of the regular board meeting, Knowles performed a kind of governmental sleight-of-hand, inserting the proposal into the meeting agenda so it could be acted on. (These kind of last-minute, blindside additions seem to happen a lot at Yankee Springs Township meetings. It’s a kind of modus operandi.)

Knowles, who served on a renovation committee that, last month, had recommended improvements to the hall, was joined in the 3-2 majority vote by – you guessed it -- Lippert and Jansma. Englerth and Vandenberg voted no.

Knowles used terms like “due diligence” to describe the work that had been done thus far. But he’s a few bricks short of a township hall.

This sure isn’t operating like a representative government. The people – in this case, township residents -- must be engaged in the process first.  But they aren't. The only engagement to this point seems to be coming from some horrified residents who said they were appalled at the board action, calling it “shameful.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not objecting to taking good care of government-owned buildings. Of course, the township hall, which was built in 1971, should be maintained. But this ain’t maintenance.

This expansion project, to renovate the nearly 4,000-square-foot existing building, including the meeting room and offices, and build a 1,727-square-foot addition, is a startling and, on its face, unnecessary and expensive project.

I wrote about this dysfunctional township board back in August, and that was before this near-million-dollar township hall plan was proposed – or even mentioned. (Just think for a moment about the speed with which such a significant investment is being pursued in Yankee Springs Township and that, alone, should set off some alarm bells.)

What I wrote then bears repeating: What should the taxpayers of Yankee Springs Township do now?

I think it’s time for residents to consider recalling this entire inept board and start fresh with new faces and a new direction for the longtime betterment of the township.

What I wrote in August holds true today: Leadership is a process of visioning, initiating, guiding and encouraging others to accomplish positive change.

Under the current circumstances, it’s not likely that much will be accomplished for those who reside in the township, which is one of the fastest growing in the county.

Shame on these elected officials. They have done a real disservice to their constituents.

It’s time for taxpayers to step in and clean up their township house - before they end up paying for a township Taj Mahal.


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