In a move that will make Colbry cry for months, the Shiawassee County Commissioners voted unanimously against pursuing a lawsuit against Gary Holzhausen to compel him to return fees he collected for issuing soil erosion waivers.
Commissioner Jack Johnson read a statement encouraging everyone to take responsibility for their respective roles in the matter of the County Board vs the County Drain Office. Here is the statement, in its entirety:
Faith, Trust, Confidence. Important to any relationship.
To whom much has been given, much is required.
To whom our trust has been given, even more is required.
Bernie Butcher ran a good program of soil erosion for 14 yrs. He followed the fee schedule that was established in 1993 and re-established in 2003, did not over charge, was fair, and this was good for the people of this county. What he was doing was understood and approved. How was he to know that the Board of Commissioners did not lawfully and properly state and adopt the program he faithfully and competently administered for 14 years? That he would end up cuffed and arrested and charged with a crime, ultimately determined by the attorney generals office to be, essentially without merit. His reputation harmed and his life severely disrupted.
Mr. Butcher had his problems, to be sure, as we all know. And I pray he has learned from his experience.
I am not using exact figures here, but to the best of my understanding they are materially sufficient to make a few observations.
Bernie Butcher collected, over 14 yrs approximately $32000 for soil erosion permits. There was faith, trust and confidence on his part with the board of commissioners and vice versa. It’s clear he worked with the commissioners, had their approval and there is plenty of evidence to support that.
Gary Holzhausen campaigned with repeated statements that he would bring integrity to the Drain Office.
At the rate of his soil erosion fees which included waivers, unilaterally implemented, cost the people of this County approximately $8000 over a period of about 6 months. Do the math. Over a period of 14 years, based on his practice of charges for the administration of the soil erosion program, the people of this county would have paid $224,000 over the same amount of time, 14 years. Who knows how far this would have gone if Gary Holzhausen had been allowed to continue to administer the soil erosion program on his own.
Now, the program is under the Health Department, and the fees have gone even higher, as I understand it, much higher. According to the Health Board’s budget amendment, they are looking at revenues of $41,000 per year in Soil Erosion fees. Now we are up to 574,000 compared to Bernie Butcher’s 32,000 spread over 14 years. Once again, the people of Shiawassee County are paying for the county government’s lack of competence and proper oversight.
The buck should stop here, on the shoulders of the board of commissioners, not passed on to the people we are supposed to serve. I am thankful to the person or persons that brought this situation to light and resulted in exposing many areas of concern and those who worked hard on the county’s behalf to pursue and expose our shortcomings and made it possible for us to consider and find a better way. A projected 2000% increase in fees for the soil erosion program is incredulous and unacceptable. We need to work to find a better way. We are facing difficult and unprecedented economic challenges that demand new and innovative solutions. This is not the time for timid business as usual but a time for investment and growth that serves us all.
There are several other issues regarding Gary Holzhausen’s administration of the Drain Office that have been brought forward. The hiring of his son as deputy drain commissioner, which is against the county’s policy of anti nepotism. A policy that is a good one with obvious merits that most everyone understands clearly, on the face of it, and needs not further clarification here. Changing the reason his son left his employment as deputy drain commissioner after his unemployment was denied, so his son could collect unemployment. Contracting with Holzhausen Excavating for work on the drains has at the very least the appearance of a conflict of interest that is not in keeping with the faith, trust and confidence the people of this county deserve. Again, to whom our trust is given, even more is required. As an elected official, given the privilege to serve the people, the standard and expectation of integrity is higher than nearly all, if not ALL other endeavors. It’s truly an awesome responsibility that we all fall short of in some way in the discharge of our oaths of office.
As commissioners of this great county of Shiawassee, we are sworn to uphold the constitution of the United States of America, and the State of Michigan. This is a great obligation and an issue that is debated and fought over, hopefully on behalf of the people we serve, in all circles of government at all times in our history.
With these ideas in mind, and what I consider to be in the best interest of the people we serve, it is my humble opinion that we do not pursue any further, this issue at hand in a court of law, but rather, appeal to our conscience, and our better angels for guidance. We should all accept and own a measure of accountability. Gary Holzhausen, the board of commissioners and other public officials. And yes, even the people of this county. In a way, especially the people of this county. We need you! We need your involvement and your participation to hold us accountable. And it is the board’s duty to facilitate and welcome your involvement in every way we can, by reforming the way we conduct the people’s business in a way that is transparent, and easily accessible, so we may have accountability, fairness and a culture of dignity in all our affairs, that is the basic and most fundamental right of everyone, regardless of rank, creed, gender or politics.
So, I ask of you, Gary Holzhausen, to thoughtfully consider, and consult your own sense of integrity, fairness and moral obligation on behalf of the people you were elected to serve, whether or not you should keep the money you took for waiver fees which was beyond and above the standard practice, or willingly return this money to the county, which has already been refunded to the people who were wrongfully charged.
And I would also ask that the board of commissioners, both past and present, recognize and accept their own responsibility and accountability for the lack of proper procedure and oversight on this matter. And that the present commissioners continue their work in a new way, open to new understanding, roll up our sleeves, and do the very best we can to take proactive measures in all that we do, to assure a mess like this does not happen again. We have many areas of concern, far more important, that deserve our attention and the best use of our vital resources. Concerns that I know are on the hearts and minds of the people of this great County of Shiawassee.
Finally, I would like to recognize commissioner VanPpelt for your leadership and experience as chair of the committee of the whole for providing the new commissioners, through your capable and thoughtful stewardship, the freedom and time for the expression of our thoughts on this important matter.
Thank you Mr. (Madam) Chair(man).