By William F. Ast III
STEVENSVILLE – Stevensville is a great example of how communities in financial trouble can pull themselves out of it, state Sen. John Proos told the Stevensville Village Council on Wednesday.
“This board knows all too well what that looks like, and it’s a challenge,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph, who was at the meeting to give council members a legislative update. But some governing units, including Detroit and Benton Harbor, have piled up debt so high they can’t cope with it, and that’s why the state’s emergency financial manager program was established, he said.
The state Board of Canvassers on Wednesday cleared petitions to put Public Act 4, the emergency financial manager law, on the November ballot, Proos said. State Attorney General Bill Schuette’s opinion is that the earlier version of the law, Public Act 72, is in effect until voters approve or disapprove Public Act 4, according to Proos.
Proos said an alternative is allowing the governing units to go bankrupt, but “I’m not sure that’s an option we want to face … all citizens of Michigan are then responsible for the debt. … I for one would not like to see a bankruptcy judge making these decisions.”
Stevensville ran into financial problems when former village manager Todd Gardner embezzled funds. In 2010 he was convicted in federal court of embezzling $272,758 in village funds and is now serving a 4-year, 4-month prison term. He was further sentenced to pay $272,758 in restitution and another $272,758 as punishment, though no one expects to ever see the money.
The village went into a self-imposed restructuring and is now financially sound again. The financial problems left by Gardner aren’t over, though, as 1st Source Bank is suing the village in U.S. District Court for $776,199 plus costs for loans the bank claims the village defaulted on.
Still, the village pulled itself out of its problems, and “that’s exactly what local control should be about, fixing the problem,” Proos said.
Also Wednesday, the council made preparations for a special meeting on Saturday to interview seven candidates for village manager. The position became vacant earlier this year when Joseph Sobieralski resigned to become Bangor city manager.
The council will meet at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and start interviewing candidates at 8:15 a.m. Council President Lori Gibson said the interviews will last into the afternoon.
Once the session is done, the council may have to call a special meeting to decide on two or three finalists, Gibson said after the meeting. The council set a special meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, to interview the finalists.
The candidates include Gary Bluschke, a St. Joseph Township trustee, and Tyanna Weller, former director of St. Joseph Today. The others are Brandon Mersman, project manager for the city of Holland, Patricia Snyder, management intern with the city of Jackson, Nathan Henne, management intern with the city of Mason, Jae Guetschow, chairman of the Downtown Development Authority in Blissfield, and Jarod Olson, management intern with the city of Clare.
Until a new manager is on board, the council voted to post Village Hall office hours on the front door every Monday. The village’s other office employees are part-time.