By Scott Sullivan
Natalie Dean has resigned after three months as Sauga-tuck Township Manager and Zoning Administrator and was told that she could leave Monday. Supervisor Chris Roerig decided to step down, effective May 3.
The remaining board at a special meeting Tuesday accepted the resignations, declining Dean’s to stay on the job through May 3, but saying they would stay in contact with her concerning budget and other matters through that date.
The latest in a leadership overhaul that began with the Nov. 6 recall election of four township board incumbents and subsequent forced resignation of manager Aaron Sheridan, combines with the imminent retirement of veteran assessor Sherry Mason to leave the new board with holes in institutional knowledge and leadership to fill.
“After being here just a few short months,” Dean wrote in her April 18 resignation letter, “I’ve come to the realization that the board and I disagree, to some extent, on agendas for the township.
“While I’ve enjoyed getting to know all of you and this community, I feel it is best for the board to look for someone who better matches your ideals,” she continued.
“The duties entailed in being both the Manager and the Zoning Administrator are extremely difficult to manage concurrently.
“While there may be some future support for more office help, I am not convinced the board is willing to adequately staff the office.
“I want to be able to do more than I can do with the help available and this has been frustrating.
“There are other concerns that have moved me towards this decision. I’ve never worked in a municipal office with an elected official. (Saugatuck Township has two, treasurer Jon Helmrich and clerk Abby Bigford. Recalled treasurer Lori Babinski and clerk Brad Rudch held those fulltime offices when Sheridan was manager.)
“While I understand it is a legal act of a general law township,” Dean’s letter said, “it is not something that is conducive to managing an office. The manager has no authority or discretion with elected officials; therefore, no real authority to run the office as he/she sees fit.
“Finally, the board hired me knowing that I would be a strong advocate for the township staff. Each of these employees – Sherry (Mason), Lori Babinski, now deputy clerk) and Carole Baumbach (general help) — are dedicated, talented and frequently overworked individuals.
“They deserve to be treated with respect as they are the real managers (emphasis Dean’s) of the daily interaction between the township office and residents.
“It would serve the board well to remember that these really are the people that retain the institutional knowledge and information needed to run the township office.”
“I am willing to stay in my current position until the end of the day on May 3 if this is desired. Until that time, I will concentrate on assisting the supervisor with the township budget. I will also attend the upcoming planning commission (April 22) and zoning board of appeals (May 2) meetings as planned,” her letter said.
Dean was asked to leave Monday and did. Roerig submitted his resignation letter at 1:32 p.m., informing Bigford he had worked with Dean to develop a draft budget which resides in (the township’s) BS&A (software) and is ready for board input and review.
“There is some outstanding information needed from the treasurer that has been requested but not received,” Roerig said, “so the draft is 90-percent complete until that information is provided.
“I strongly recommend that you retain the outgoing manager to amend the draft, as I have delegated those duties to her and her offer to work on this for the township is generous.”
Roerig’s official letter was briefer: “I hereby resign my position as Saugatuck Township Supervisor and (from) all boards and commissions to which I have been appointed.
“The direction that the new board wants to take the township in is vastly different from (what) I believe is best for our residents.
“Should the board agree to keep our outgoing manager on board to finalize FY 2019 budget, I will assist her in that effort,” Roerig said.
Wood’s letter came April 18, Good Friday and Easter Friday ensued, with Monday was the first day back.
The board voted 4-0 Jan. 23 to hire Dean, a municipal planner for the Kalamazoo-based Wightman consulting firm who had 13 years prior experience as a Marshall planner, zoning administrator and, eventually, assistant city manager to succeed both Sheridan and Steve Kushion, who resigned as zoning administrator Oct. 31 last year. She began Feb. 4 for an $80,000 yearly salary.
“When I saw your listing, I thought it was just the job I was looking for,” Dean said.
That changed quickly, among issues being the new board declining her appeals for increased staffing. Her letter alludes to others.
Roerig, appointed supervisor by the former board last spring after predecessor Jon Phillips moved out of the township, was elected unopposed to that same post Nov. 6. He was also a board veteran, having served as trustee from 2000 to 2012 and before then on the parks commission.
Recall candidates Helmrich, then-clerk Bill Wester, plus trustees Bigford and Stacey Aldrich joined him on the new board after the election.
When Wester resigned, Roerig called for an open process to replace him, but remaining members including Bigford chose to appoint Bigford clerk without going through that process.
Roerig’s motion to appoint applicant Mary Fechtig to replace Bigford as trustee was not seconded. The board then chose Brenda Marcy, who campaigned actively for the recall, trustee instead.
Roerig and the new board majority differed on other issues, leading to his resignation.
The board’s next regular monthly meeting will be Wednesday, May Day, at 6 p.m.