September 2, 2014

Arenac Township scuffles may wind up in court

By John Fischer|Staff writer
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ARENAC TOWNSHIP — In a long-standing battle between Arenac Township Treasurer Michelle Mackenzie and Arenac Township Resident Glen Rice, matters have escalated to the point that Arenac Township, allegedly, will file suit against Rice.

According to Mackenzie, the problems between she and Rice began two years ago.

“All of a sudden, there was an individual who started showing up to all the meetings,” Mackenzie said. “Then I started receiving phone calls…and I spent some time explaining some tax situations to him.

“Then it turned into him wanting to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) document after document without filling out a form or paying for it. Then it turned into him calling Cindy (Johns-Halamar, Arenac Township clerk) or myself and wanting to spend hours and hours looking over every single document. It got worse and worse. Now it’s to the point where we spend all our time at meetings on him.”

She says the problems increased even more when former Arenac Township assessors Mike Henninger and Linda Lewandowski subsequently stepped down and took jobs with the Arenac County Equalization office.

“I filled in between Mike and Linda (Lewandowski),” Mackenzie said. “When Linda left, we ran an ad in the paper looking for an assessor.

“There were no responses and I asked Jim (Daly), supervisor, about taking the position and he said okay. Then we contacted the MTA (Michigan Township Association) to get a legal opinion. They’re our source for opinions on legal matters.”

She says when she was hired as assessor, it was the only meeting she remembers Rice missing in two years.

“He was sure something was done illegally,” Mackenzie alleged. “He felt slighted because his wife had apparently wanted the job and was working towards certification. So he had a full-blown police investigation done on me.”

Rice, who says he has no personal vendetta against Mackenzie, alleges the situations occurred differently.

“They’re (Arenac Township board) not telling the whole story,” Rice said. “They mislead the public about hiring the treasurer as assessor. They haven’t told their attorneys about turning down a level 3 and level 2 assessor; and in January, when they wanted to sign the (tax) roll, another assessor came forward and was turned down.”

Rice says he’s sought opinions from various state departments (State Tax Commission [STC], State Assessors Board [SAB] and the Attorney General’s office) along with filing a complaint with the State Assessor’s Board due to his concern of Arenac Township’s assessments being taken over by the state, as Adams Township is currently in that boat, paying $40 per parcel for a state assessment.

“They (Arenac Township) advertised for a certified assessor (last year),” Rice says. “A level-3 stepped forward before March (2008). There was no open meeting about it.

“I know in March (2008) a level-2 assessor applied and was turned down too.”

However, he says the township chose to hire Mackenzie at $8.50 per parcel, 50-cents below normal township rates, on the basis of the township paying for her training and testing.

“I never held it against her for failing the test,” Rice said. “I’ve failed tests before.

“They broke their own rule. The law does not allow a person to perform assessments without certification. Hiring the treasurer as assessor isn’t allowed. They (treasurer or supervisor) were never given a conditional certification (while Mackenzie served as assessor without certification) and it’s not right they hired somebody who isn’t certified over people who are. The state’s taken over the tax roll all because they (board) wanted one person in there.”

During the Arenac County Board of Commissioner’s Committee of a Whole meeting on April 17, Mackenzie addressed the board regarding the situation and presented a packet of opinions from the MTA, which approves the hiring of the treasurer as assessor in Arenac Township.

“An individual (allegedly Rice) is going to great extents of passing out packets, affecting my electability,” Mackenzie said at the meeting. “An individual also made informational calls to assessors (when the township was looking for a certified assessor to sign the roll) telling them if they touch the roll, they’ll be prosecuted.”

She also alleges she can’t use the county equalization office or call Arenac County Equalization Director Linda Lewandowski because certain office personnel listen in on conversations and use the information to defame her.

“During a meeting with the state, people were spying on our meeting,” Mackenzie said. She added afterwards, as a precaution, Lewandowski regularly calls Mackenzie from her car whenever the two need to speak.

“Dennis (Stawowy) is my greatest resource as a treasurer and Linda is my greatest resource as an assessor,” Mackenzie said. “I should be able to go to them for information whenever I need without having to worry about [confidentiality].”

She also explained to the commissioners her intention to file a lawsuit against the individual on the basis of harassment and defamation of character.

“I’ve gone to the (Arenac County) sheriff three times,” Mackenzie said. “I’ve talked to the prosecutor too. I’m not sure who made the calls, but whoever did will be prosecuted.”

She also alleged the individual’s complaint to the state resulted in a future 14-point review.

Rice later rebutted during public comment, saying he is on the zoning board and was simply looking over maps.

“The treasurer signed in (to the equalization office) before me,” Rice said. “They (treasurer, Lewandowski and a state representative) went into Linda’s room, and I went to the secretary’s office. I don’t even know when she left.”

Rice also says he has no knowledge of phone calls to assessors and says the 14-point review is a result of the former board’s actions 14 months ago and not because of anything he did.

Rice says he’s never threatened legal action through a lawyer and the STC and SAB are the citizen’s avenue of complaining against a township.

“The laws pertain to everyone,” Rice said. “We wouldn’t be there if they had followed the law.

“I told them at the last meeting (after the board threatened legal action) if they want to take it before a judge, go ahead. I welcome it. I know they haven’t told their lawyers the whole story. There was 14 months when she wasn’t certified (and was) spending a lot of money.”

Mackenzie passed the state assessor’s certification test on April 1.

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