Scio Township differs from Ann Arbor in many ways. It’s less populous, with just over 20,000 residents in the last census, and wealthier, with a median household income of $124,000. But in both communities, the only local election that matters is the August Democratic Party primary.
In 2020, voters picked three members of a slate called “Moving Scio Forward,” led by supervisor candidate Will Hathaway. They and the other primary winners–including Jessica Flintoft, winning election as clerk after being appointed the year before–coasted through the general election.
Since then, trustee Jane Vogel says, the board has gotten “just a tremendous amount of really good work done,” including protecting more farmland and extending a nonmotorized pathway along Zeeb Rd. But it’s also had many long, angry meetings, including one in October where Vogel complained that critics were eroding local democracy in their efforts to “take down” Hathaway. At the same meeting, Flintoft–who’d disagreed with Hathaway on key issues–decried “the level of vitriol for me as a person.”
In mid-December, Vogel announced her resignation. She cited “professional and family priorities,” but her farewell message warned that the board’s “polarized disagreements” had delayed vital financial reports and even approval of meeting minutes.
She didn’t mention that David Read, the only member of the slate defeated in 2020, was gathering signatures to recall both her and Hathaway–focusing on their votes to double the supervisor’s pay.
“I thought I knew them,” Read emails. “But once they came into power, I realized they were not the same folks that I knew. I could not, in good conscience, work with people that I did not respect, could not trust, and who did not respect each other or the people they served.”
Read and fellow Scio resident Pat Stein first tried to recall Hathaway, Vogel, and slatemate Alec Jerome, but the county’s election commission rejected their petition language. So, he says they chose “to restyle on Mr. Hathaway for doubling his salary.” Stein later filed a separate petition against Vogel, for supporting Hathaway.
Behind the fight over pay is a dispute about how Scio should be governed. The township previously had a part-time elected supervisor and a half-time paid administrator, but after the last administrator left in 2019, the tasks were divided between clerk Flintoft and then-supervisor Jack Knowles. At Flintoft’s request, the board had already increased the clerk’s pay when she was appointed, to $84,000. To cover Knowles’ extra work, it gave him a full-time salary of $72,000.
When Hathaway took office, the pay dropped back to $36,000. “I thought that, together with a township manager, I could” do the job part-time, he says. But when “we had a board of trustees meeting every week for six weeks. I realized this is a full-time job.” When the board adopted its budget for the current fiscal year, it included salaries for both an administrator and a full-time supervisor.
Flintoft didn’t see the need. During the campaign, she’d argued that elected officials should take on more responsibility and in May, she and Hathaway presented rival proposals–hers for what she called “shared governance,” his for a strong administrator and supervisor. Hathaway and his allies chose his.
Read emails that his former slatemates’ response crystalized his disillusionment. “It was obvious that the supervisor had no intention of compromise and made his administrative models more and more centralized,” he writes. “Then there was the ongoing disrespect of the clerk and the constant attempts to reduce or eliminate public comment” at virtual meetings.
Hathaway’s group voted to move ahead with hiring an administrator, but tabled a motion that would have made the supervisor’s raise official.
Flintoft then proposed that the township appoint a commission to review compensation. Hathaway and his allies agreed. But when his pay raise came back at a meeting in August, they seemed surprised when Flintoft argued that they couldn’t act without a recommendation from the commission–which hadn’t yet been appointed.
“We adopted the compensation commission method of setting official salaries,” Flintoft says by phone from her township office. “And I believe that we were obligated to use that method and not do it by resolution.”
Hathaway believed that any recommendations from the commission wouldn’t take effect until the following fiscal year. So his allies went ahead and passed the increase–only to be sued by a resident who echoed Flintoft’s argument.
The commission was eventually appointed, and at a December meeting it recommended a number of changes–most notably, that the supervisor be paid $40,000 for half-time work and that Flintoft’s pay be dialed back to $75,000.
Commission chair Monica Knowles–Jack’s wife–says those recommendations reflect the arrival of a new administrator: David Rowley, who started at the end of November.
Hathaway emails that he disagrees “with the commission’s assumption that this work is part-time.” He intends to continue working full-time but “will honor the commission’s determination … My understanding is that I cannot reduce my own compensation but going forward I will donate back to the Township my salary above $40,000.”
As the Observer went to press, the board still hadn’t approved the minutes of the August 17 ‘meeting–or any since then.
“The draft minutes for August 17th and August 24th arrived the day of the September 14th board meeting,” Hathaway says. “Both of them were flawed. Some people are quoted at length and some people are not, so you get [an] imbalanced presentation of the debate, the issues.”
Flintoft, who drafts the minutes, says the real problem is that the majority has “refused to discuss and amend the minutes. They’ve had memos [and] speeches about them, but they’ve never deliberated on them.”
Michigan’s Open Meeting Act requires that public bodies “make corrected minutes available at or before the next subsequent meeting after correction.” In ‘December, Jillian Kerry, Hathaway’s 2020 primary opponent, filed fifteen complaints with the state’s attorney general–one for every meeting since August 17.
Hathaway says he’s asked Rowley to review recordings of the meetings and Flintoft’s minutes. “We’re looking to the township administrator to be kind of a peacemaker,” he says.
Flintoft is good with that. “David knows the law, and David knows the ethics,” she says. She expects he’ll say “it’s the clerk’s job to draft the minutes, and it’s the board’s job to amend it.”
At this point, the board’s divisions are less about policy than power and personality. But Vogel is hopeful that Rowley can mediate the disputes, praising his “depth of experience and expertise and the gravitas that he is bringing to the job.”
Knowles, the former supervisor, is less optimistic. “While I have tried to remain neutral and let the new board find their way,” he emails, “I’ve witnessed the hurdles and delays that the Clerk has put before the new Board … Given the Clerk’s delaying actions, fueled by [a] vocal, organized, angry crowd, and the majority of the Board being green and inexperienced and often shouted down by the citizenry, I believe the groundwork was laid for delay and gridlock.”
As for the recall, Read admits that it will be an uphill battle–“we need 2,439 signatures [gathered in a] six or eight week period.” But he says they have “around thirty folks” willing to help, and enough money to “get a thousand door hangers printed.”
Vogel’s resignation will presumably render her petition moot, leaving Hathaway as the only target. If it succeeds, he will face Scio’s voters again, in a May special election. He’ll be running as a Democrat against anyone who chooses to challenge him.
So far, no one has volunteered.
from Calls & Letters, February 2022
“There is an important error that I would ask that you correct,” Scio Township clerk Jessica Flintoft emailed after reading our December article on the leadership conflict there. We’d written that “When the board adopted its budget for the current fiscal year, it included salaries for both an administrator and a full-time supervisor.”
“That is not true,” Flintoft wrote. She sent a link to the adopted budget, which included a $72,000 salary for a supervisor, but none for an administrator. “[T]he Board never had at that point anticipated both a fully engaged Supervisor and an Administrator,” Flintoft wrote–that wasn’t advanced “until around August 17.”
“I communicated my position in favor of a full-time supervisor together with a full-time township manager (administrator) in writing to the entire Board of Trustees as early as February 23, 2021,” supervisor Will Hathaway responded by email. When the budget was adopted the board had not yet decided to hire a manager, but Hathaway writes that he was advised “that once the debate was settled, the Board could later vote to amend the budget to authorize [the hiring]. That is exactly what the majority of the Board subsequently voted to do.”
At the same meeting, he adds, a “resolution to authorize the previously budgeted salary increase for the supervisor was tabled due to the late hour.” It was brought back in August and approved–triggering a lawsuit and recall drive that are still ongoing.