Letter to the Editor: Three McMillan board members resign
Two McMillan Town Board Supervisors and the Clerk resigned August 21, 22. This letter addresses, in part, the reasons in order to inform the public. We regret taking this drastic action as we understand the responsibilities involved in serving in this role. The three of us tried very hard to continue to serve the Town but felt unable to contribute constructively to McMillan Township in the current hostile climate on the Board since the Spring elections. Our goal in serving was to try to make the town a better place. We frankly lack confidence that a majority of town board supervisors share that goal.
We were elected or appointed to serve the township and feel that we have made important contributions. Our goal has always been to make the town a better place. There should be no place in town governance for petty personal animosity or disagreements to trump sound decision-making based on the needs of the town and townspeople. And yet, those petty feuds, often going back decades, seem many times to be the driving force for decision-making on the board. Some board actions have been takenand promises apparently made for what appears to be direct personal gain for board members or their friends, relatives, or voters. These types of conflicts of interest are expressly prohibited in town governments and yet such conflicts aboundThe “us versus them” mentality on the board is destructive. The Board, Clerk, Treasurer, and town employees and volunteers need to work together for the good of the town. The town and its leadership must maintain a safe, welcoming workplace for its employees and volunteers. Since April, we feel the town leadership is creating a hostile, rather than safe, environment. Employees and volunteers have been openly criticized at board meetings, often when absent. The disrespectful and disparaging language used by board members when discussing these individuals’ work is completely inappropriate as is slandering employees and board members (community members have passed on to us some of the hurtful and inaccurate comments made about some of us). The hiring and firing practices of board leadership are unprofessional. For example, board leadership replaced the Treasurer without interviewing a replacement. Both the Clerk and Fire Chief were treated in a disdainful manner.The Clerk, after pointing out at a Board meeting that the Board Chair owned the software the Clerk used to track town finances and accessed the Clerk’s computer, was literally yelled at by the Board Chair in front of board members. There is supposed to be a separation between the Clerk’s maintenance ofthe finances and the Board Chair so as to avoid the possibility of impropriety. The Clerk received furtherretaliationby the Board Chair,whichis documented in the Clerk’s resignation letter to the Board. The Fire Chief was informed that Board members had contacted community members to determine their willingness to serve as Chief when the current Chief had no intention of leaving his position. Finally, board members have selectively not brought forth recommendations from Finance and Highway committees to board meetings when they didn’t serve the member’s interests or follow their personal narrative.
Board decision-making, in addition to being based in part on personal feuds and vindictiveness, in some cases, seemsnon-sensical. One example: the board recently voted (Bob and Davevoting no) to provide keys for board members to the Fire Department building. We opposed that decision, making our reasons for opposition clear. There are medications stored in the building as well as patient information and sensitive equipment. If, God forbid, medications or equipment such as breathers are ever tampered withor patient information, shared distribution of keys to the building will make it difficult to track down the offender. Worse yet, the eventuality of such a breach is dramatically increased by expanding access to the building. When asked for justification for distribution of keys,the two reasons given were that a supervisor wanted to be able to use the ice machine, and that the lights were left on in the building once at night, and if a supervisor had a key he or she could have turned them off. Surely you see the folly in this.
The town currently suffers from an avoidable funding deficit. Roads are not being repaired or paved, dust control has stopped, and the town has ceased contributing to a fund to replace the StaadtBridge. The bridge must be replaced and the town will bear an expense of approximately $200K at best. This contribution assumes “matching” funds from the county, state, and federal government. The matching funds require the town to put up its share; if not, the full cost (~$1 million) must be borne by the town. The town is behind on saving the $200K. Last year the board approved a budget of ~$660K after months of work and back and forth discussion and compromise. It was quite a personal blow to have the current Board Chair lead an effort to randomly reduce the town tax levy to $500K (not the $660K the town needed) after we had spent months developing a budget. The additional funds would have gone into the StaadtBridge CD to fund the bridge replacement. There is no savings plan for this or future needed capital projects.
We’ve tried to understand the genesis of all the ill will present in town leadership. We believe some of it may stem from tensions related to growth. McMillan has grown rapidly in recent years, and the demographics are changing. While the town was mainly populated by farmers in the past, and those living on large plots of land, there are now subdivisions filled with physicians, other Clinic professionals, and business people. Some members of the farming community and those with roots in McMillan dating back decades may have differing visions for the town than the newcomers. However, it is our firm belief that the two groups should be able to work together for the good of the town. The two of us, for example, have very different backgrounds. Dave Swensonis a farmer whose family has been in McMillan for more than 100 years. Bob Steiner is a physician-scientist whose family has been in the area for 6 years, living in a subdivision. We represent very different groups that make up this wonderfully diverse community. Our politics are probably different. And yet, despite all these differences,we found common ground in our Board decisions; when we disagreed we discussed the issue and compromised. That is the way the Board can and should function. We have not observed this same willingness and ability to compromise and come to consensus among all supervisors.
We’re still not sure that explains all the acrimony in McMillan town government. There seems to be a prevailing notion that some townspeople don’t care if they have to pay higher taxes. I can assure you that nobody wants to pay higher taxes! What we want is for the town to uphold its duty to provide needed public services such as access to schools, fire and safety, road maintenance, and library access. Those services cost money, which comes in part from taxes. The board spent countless hours developing a sound budget, trying to keep taxes as low as possible, and this work was scuttled. There’s a lot of talk about the Fire Department spending too much money and having excess equipment. The Fire Department replaced a 1979 truck for a 20 year old used truck that was present at the 9/11 attacks. It’s not as if they are buying Rolls Royces! These constant attacks on the Fire Department hurt morale among the volunteer force that protects us, and reduction in equipment or elimination of the force would adversely affect all of our homeowners insurance policies, let along put us at personal risk of injury or death. The equipment purchased last year was only bought after months of open deliberation and vigorous debate at several town board meetings . What’s done is done, it’s time to move on.
In conclusion, the three of us who resigned felt it was in everyone’s best interest for us toleave our positions. Our hope is that this might be a wake-up call for current leadership and the community. It’s time to put old feuds aside, to let the well-being of the town guide every decision, to serve with integrity, and to treat one another with respect at all times. The Town of McMillan and its good people deserve better from their elected officials.
Tanya B. Holcomb