At the end of last year, the township faced a lawsuit and Hathaway faced a recall drive (“Trouble in Scio Township,” January 2022). Over the winter, the lawsuit was thrown out for lack of standing, and the recall failed for lack of signatures (though an organizer says they’ll try again).
But come spring, new threats sprang up. At a March township board meeting, new administrator David Rowley sharply criticized the township’s financial management. Noting that a number of funds were in the red, he warned, “[i]f this was a normal general law township you would have been bankrupt a long time ago.”
By “normal,” he clarified, he meant “poor.”
“The township is fortunate to reap the benefits of an affluent tax base just outside Ann Arbor,” MLive quoted Rowley as saying. “It’s the only reason your doors are still open.”
Township treasurer Donna Palmer had already hired consulting and accounting firms to help out on an emergency basis. “We needed help for that moment in time,” Palmer says, to pay bills and get out payroll.
Hathaway disagreed. He thought that existing staff could do everything needed, and moved to rescind the contract pending an evaluation. Despite more sharp warnings from Rowley, only Palmer and clerk Jessica Flintoft voted against the resolution.
“I don’t want to get into detail” about the March disagreement, Palmer says. She arranged the contracts at a time when she was concerned about “a very serious personal health issue” involving a finance staffer. Since then, “things are to the point where they’re now able to deal with” the workload, she says—so when the contract came back for consideration in April, she joined Hathaway and his allies in voting to cancel it.
But at the same meeting, Rowley gave notice. When he started last November, both sides had hoped he might be able to bridge the differences on the board and in the community. Instead, he’ll be gone by mid-May, less than six months after he started.
Rowley was blunt about his dismay at Hathaway’s majority: According to MLive, the administrator declared that “events have clearly demonstrated that there will never be agreement between myself and township-elected officials as to the principles of good governance regarding local government, fiscal management and certified oversight.” (Rowley didn’t respond to the Observer’s request for comment.)
“I don’t completely understand how we got to this point,” Hathaway says. “I thought we were communicating clearly. For some reason, he found it difficult to hear those concerns and the request for information-specific questions until we presented it to him in writing … I spent days working on a detailed memo to him [but] we didn’t really get the response that we were looking for.”
The dispute seems to come down to priorities. Looking at the township’s accounting practices, Rowley saw an urgent need for a larger and more formal structure. Looking at their bank account, Hathaway and his allies figured they could take their time.
Scio has “a very healthy fund balance,” Hathaway says—about $7.5 million. “There are things that we need to do [with staffing], but are we in any kind of real financial trouble? Absolutely not.”
The day the board terminated the staffing contract, Flintoft sued to reinstate it; losing the added support, she argued, would cause “irreparable harm” to the township. Though a hearing was scheduled as the Observer went to press, Hathaway contends that because the board has already acted, “it’s sort of a moot point.
“We’re not in danger of not paying our bills,” he says. “We’re not in danger of not paying our employees.” But he concedes that hiring a new administrator may be tough.
“There’s a lot of things about Scio Township that made our prior search difficult,” says Hathaway. “We were already exhibiting a lot of conflict and not everyone wants to come to work in that kind of environment.”
Will it be even harder this time?
“I don’t know,” he admits. “I pray to God not.”