Lawsuit, objections voiced after council cuts off his salary
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – Media filled the Taylor City Council chambers for a second meeting in a row as City Treasurer Ed Bourassa’s attorney, Michael Pitt, blasted the council’s elimination of Bourassa’s salary.
Bourassa, who filed a federal lawsuit after the council voted 5-2 at its Dec. 18 meeting to stop the payment of his salary effective Jan. 1, claims, through his attorney, that the council’s action was illegal and not within its power to impose, and further claims he has been working from home since incurring a disability injury which makes walking difficult for him.
Bourassa was dropped by two hospital orderlies following hip surgery, and recovering his mobility has been challenging and painful, he said.
Council Chairman Tim Woolley and Council members Alex Garza, Angela Croft, Butch Ramik and Daniel Bzura voted Dec. 18 to eliminate Bourassa’s salary; Council members Caroline Patts and Charley Johnson voted against. Bourassa’s lawsuit was brought against Mayor Rick Sollars and the council members voting in favor of the measure.
Woolley opened a public meeting with the intention of addressing a “potential vacancy” for the office of city treasurer, which Pitt strongly contested.
Woolley read a statement which contends a city office is vacant when a city official fails to perform his or her duties, pursuant with section 4.3 of the city charter, and said Bourassa was served with a letter Feb. 22.
Bourassa did not speak at the council meeting, allowing his attorney to voice his concerns.
Pitt objected to the council hearing, and said the jurisdiction over the removal of an elected official is governed by Michigan statutes 168 and 327, which authorizes the governor and not the city council to decide whether an elected official should be removed from office.
Pitt said the council members who are defendants in the lawsuit should recuse themselves from the proceedings.
“For the record, Mr. Bourassa has continued to perform his duties as treasurer and he will continue to do so until he is removed or he resigns,” Pitt said. “I suggest the council reconsider reinstating his compensation. I think that would eliminate the need for a recusal if the council were to return Mr. Bourassa to the status quo. I think that would be an appropriate and proper show of good faith.”
Bzura said he thought the public meeting would be an opportunity for Bourassa to respond to the statements in the affidavit.
“I just heard his attorney say he continues to do his duties, and this is all about whether he is or is not doing his duties,” Bzura said. “I wasn’t sure if there was any decision on your part to speak before the people, to speak before council, and kind of tell us why you think the claims being made in the affidavit are wrong, and how you actually are performing the duties of your job.”
Pitt replied that they would wait until a special counsel was appointed, and until that time Bourassa would continue to perform his duties as city treasurer, but would not speak before the council nor defend himself before them at this time.
“He would expect to be paid, like any other person would expect to be paid for his services,” Pitt said. “I would leave it up to this body to correct what I believe to be an error that was made in December by unilaterally withdrawing his salary without any due process to him whatsoever.”
During the public comment periods, Bourassa’s supporters, including residents Jeff Jones, Brenda Jones and Joann Buckner stated for the record that they had witnessed Bourassa working from his home office on behalf of residents, often by phone.
Jeff Jones said the city council did not follow due process when it revoked Bourassa’s pay, especially when Bourassa was on medical leave.
“I don’t understand why the council would make that decision,” he said. “I have seen Mr. Bourassa working, on a regular basis, at all hours of the night and all hours of the day for the past year. He was working, I saw him working, the phone calls would come in, sometimes as late as midnight on a Friday night.”
Jeff Jones said it seems there has been a miscommunication, or lack of communication, or misleading information presented to the council.
“As a concerned citizen, our city council seems to mistranslate our charter,” he said. “For one thing, the Michigan Disability Act, and the state Constitution, on how to remove an elected official, and the Constitution of the United States.”
Woolley reminded those present that Bourassa had not been removed from office.
Resident Carol Moran said she has experience in another jurisdiction in trying to remove an elected official from office in West Bloomfield.
“The only way you can do it is through a recall, or writing the governor and expressing your complaints,” Moran said.
Brenda Jones said she has met Bourassa, and said she has never met someone “more passionate about his position as the treasurer.”
She testified to Bourassa’s willingness to take calls from residents and help them.
Outside of the council chambers, Bourassa spoke to the media, and said he did not anticipate the council’s actions, and he is glad they are taking what he characterized as a step back to look at their actions.
He said that in the past three weeks more than 100 residents have called him with messages of support, and voicing that they were glad he was continuing to help residents, especially offering support with foreclosure concerns.
“I would hate to disclose a lot of those issues, because I think it is a personal matter, but if the court wants me to disclose the people (whom) I have helped over the past few months, and over the past 12 months, I am still going to continue to do my job as city treasurer,” Bourassa said.
Bourassa said over the past eight to nine months he has complained to the city when he was blocked or otherwise unable to access his city email account from his smartphone or home computer. He said he doesn’t know for sure if he was blocked or it was a connection error.
“I asked permission to come to city hall to straighten out those issues, and I was told I am not allowed on any city property,” Bourassa said.
Bourassa said he requested access to his city email accounts even before his hip replacement surgery.
He said Human Resources Director Jill Gorski told him he was not allowed on city property until his medical leave status is lifted by the Henry Ford Health System. He said he went to the council chambers that evening at the behest of the council.
Bourassa said he is not sure what his next step will be.
“I do love the city of Taylor, and I am helping as many residents as I can,” he said. “The last thing I want is for any resident to lose their home here in the city of Taylor.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)