2017-04-20 / Front Page

Concern surfaces over possible violation of fire chief contract

BY LANIA ROCHA
810-452-2652 • lrocha@mihomepaper.com

CLAYTON TOWNSHIP and SWARTZ CREEK – Having come up short of the votes needed to initiate the fire chief’s health care savings plan, the Swartz Creek Area Fire Board now appears to be in violation of the chief’s employment contract.

“This board has approved a contract allowing the chief to participate in a health care savings plan,” said attorney Bill Cavanaugh. “He has a right to do this. You have a responsibility to make sure a check goes to that purpose.”

For more than a year, the fire board has been divided over Chief Brent Cole’s request for the savings plan, which would direct a portion of the chief’s salary into an account that he could not access until retirement.

Representatives from the city of Swartz Creek have supported the proposal, while Clayton Township delegates have generally opposed it, citing concerns that it circumvents Social Security laws.

Cavanaugh has advised the fire board that the deferred payment arrangement is legal.

The fire board approved Cole’s contract in February, but postponed a vote to release the money because board members had not reviewed the specific savings plan.

“You have an obligation to approve it as long as (the savings plan) meets the requirements of the contract,” Cavanaugh said. “You have no right to second-guess the plan that he’s selected.”

The March fire board meeting was canceled for lack of a quorum.

Monday, a vote to release the funds resulted in a 3-3 tie.

The failure of the resolution did not sit well with some residents who attended the meeting.

“It’s his money,” said Boots Abrams, who served 28 years on the fire board. “It’s not illegal. I’m disturbed that you’re not backing your chief.”

Former fire board member Joel McRee asked the board to “explain to your constituents why you put yourselves into a possible lawsuit by violating the agreement.”

“You’ve put (the communities) in the crosshairs of a lawsuit,” said resident Steve Shumaker. “You’re not governing.”

Cole said he will put the item on the agenda for the May meeting.

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