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Topic: Burton politics on trial again

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El Supremo

Burton dispute leads to criminal investigation, lawsuit from city clerk
Updated Jan 25; Posted Jan 25

By Roberto Acosta racosta1@mlive.com
BURTON, MI - A new lawsuit is asking a judge to weigh in on a dispute over forced administrative leave for the Burton city clerk.

A lawsuit has been filed by Burton City Clerk Teresa Karsney against Mayor Paula Zelenko and Human Resources Director Sue Warren after she was placed on administrative leave months ago.

The lawsuit alleges Karsney was punished for speaking out against misdeeds allegedly occurring within the city government.

But Zelenko has said the leave was appropriate as police conducted a probe into accusations against Karsney, an investigation that has now been turned over to Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.

Leyton said his office has not authorized any criminal charges.

Among the claims in the lawsuit are that Burton Mayor Paula Zelenko violated the state's concealed weapons law, entered into contracts in violation of the city's charter, refused to testify at a public hearing, and discriminated against Karsney for speaking out on alleged misdeeds.

"There's no merit to her accusations," Zelenko said, declining to comment further.

Audrey Forbush, attorney for Zelenko and Warren, could not be reached for comment.

Karsney and Deputy Clerk Racheal Ervin-Boggs were placed on administrative leave in October following a citizen complaint about the land deal. The leave initially included pay, but it has since been changed to unpaid leave, according to the mayor's chief of staff.

Burton clerk, deputy clerk on leave after police launch investigation
Burton clerk, deputy clerk on leave after police launch investigation

Officials refused to release details of the investigation.

The lawsuit alleges, in part, that Karsney's rights were violated under the Whistleblower Protection Act when she was accused of a crime after she spoke out about contracts being entered into by the city in violation of the charter.

It's also alleged in the lawsuit that Karsney refused to violate the Freedom of Information Act, refused to lie at a public hearing and refused to "lie or go along with forging an agreement regarding defined contributions/benefits" and she was placed on leave. Further details on those claims were not included in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks for damages in excess of $100,000.

The criminal investigation and lawsuit were filed after Ervin-Boggs had agreed in July 2016 to purchase property on McLean Street from another resident, according to a police report obtained by MLive-The Flint Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request.

However, a dispute emerged regarding the sale.

The property owner allegedly told police he agreed to payments for the parcel, but it was not paid in full. Ervin-Boggs said she paid $1,000 -- the agreed amount -- but the property owner said she owed $500 more. Ultimately, Ervin-Boggs decided to back out of the deal.

Despite halting the sale, the owner discovered Ervin-Boggs had paid taxes on the property and a quitclaim deed for the property was notarized by Karsney and was filed with the Genesee County Register of Deeds on behalf of Ervin-Boggs, according to the police report.

A quitclaim deed is used to transfer ownership of property from one person to another.

The owner claims he never signed the deed and that Karsney was not involved in the transaction, according to the police report.

When interviewed by Burton police, Ervin-Boggs allegedly said a lease agreement was signed but she broke off the deal after the owner repeatedly asked her to pay an additional $500. She claimed to not have seen the property owner since the agreement and the quitclaim deed was signed -- on the same day.

Asked how Karsney could have notarized the signatures if the owner never went to Burton City Hall, Ervin-Boggs could not provide an explanation. A notarization is required to take place with all parties involved present, the report claims.

Ervin-Boggs told police she didn't remember if she'd asked Karsney for a favor in notarizing the quit claim deed, but she alleged it was "commonplace" for them to notarize items for each other.

In a follow-up interview with police, Ervin-Boggs told an investigator the deed "was simply brought into Teresa who stamped it and notarized it without all parties being there or having positively identifying them or having them sign the deed in her presence."

While speaking with police, Ervin-Boggs allegedly said she was commissioned as a notary in 2015 but she had not received any training until heading to a clerk's conference in June 2017. A class at the conference discussed it being illegal to notarize a document without all parties present, according to the report.

"Boggs explained that both she and Karsney attended the class together and that during the class, she looked at Karsney and stated, 'We are doing this all wrong,'" the police report reads. "Boggs states that Karsney replied, 'I know.'"

Tom Pabst, Karsney's attorney for the lawsuit, said his client is not guilty of any crime and he's never heard of a notary issue leading to criminal charges.
Post Sat Jan 27, 2018 10:30 am 
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El Supremo

ispute between Burton mayor, council over budget heads to court
Updated Jul 12, 2017; Posted Jul 12, 2017
By Roberto Acosta racosta1@mlive.com

Burton Mayor Paula Zelenko
BURTON, MI -- A contentious Burton City Council meeting this week offered no relief in a battle between the governing body and Mayor Paula Zelenko over the city's budget.

The July 10 special meeting came three days after Genesee Circuit Judge Judith Fullerton ordered both sides to hold the meeting to iron out their differences over the 2017-18 budget that was due to go into effect July 1.

A new budget was approved by a 5-2 vote on June 19, but Zelenko has argued changes were made to the document without discussion and some of the funding shifted between departments cannot be moved.

But council members have fired back that Zelenko has too many employees, and that's putting a strain on the budget and that the new version keeps the residents in mind and is legally binding, per the charter and city attorney.

Some heated exchanges took place during Monday's meeting including between Council Vice President Duane Haskins and Zelenko, whose court filing asks for the council to take a vote on her proposed budget.

In a June 21 letter to council vice president Steve Heffner, Zelenko states "rather than accepting or rejecting the FY 2017-18 budget proposal" the board "unilaterally altered and amended some provisions of my budget proposal without my permission or consent" and adopted the update version.

"Where is the copy of the budget that this council approved? I've yet to see that," he said.

Zelenko uttered, "I have no copy because there was no budget that you approved."

"You did not just say that," responded Haskins, adding Zelenko has continually provided a copy of the administration's proposed budget that does not allow for a comparison between the two documents.

One of the points of contention between Zelenko and the council is the tax rate for the general fund, with the mayor's budget at 4.707 mills. The council approved a budget with a 4-mill general fund tax rate, the same figure as the 2016-17 budget.

"The council's whole plan was to still operate at 4.0 (mills)," said Haskins to the mayor.

"I guess that's one of the reasons why we're in court, because you're violating the charter," Zelenko said, an assessment with which Haskins strongly disagreed.

Council members voted 5-2 in April to approve the 4-mill general fund tax rate. If and when the council's approved budget goes into effect, the general fund would see an overall reduction of approximately $743,000 in the two-year time span.

The city is currently operating on "an essential, urgent, or emergency basis only until we have a determination from the court," Zelenko said in a message to the Flint Journal.

"I maintain the opinion that the city council does not have the authority to unilaterally propose and approve a budget," she said.

Zelenko has accused the council of trying to gain some points with residents ahead of an August election.

"I think there is political posturing going on that will not only affect this year's council elections but setting the stage for the next mayoral election," she recently said.

However, Heffner rebutted, "It just seems whenever we have a disagreement with the mayor, she claims it's politics."

"It isn't political," he said. "Our job is to approve a budget and that's what we did."

The council unanimously voted at the end of Monday's meeting to reaffirm the budget. Both sides are due back in court Friday, July 14.
Post Sat Jan 27, 2018 10:38 am 
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El Supremo

Legal action looms as Burton council, mayor clash over budget
Updated Jun 29, 2017; Posted Jun 29, 2017

By Roberto Acosta racosta1@mlive.com

BURTON, MI - City council members have authorized the hiring of an attorney if Burton Mayor Paula Zelenko does not approve the version of the budget the governing board approved this month.

But Zelenko said she can't accept the numbers that have been provided by the council but hasn't officially approved or vetoed the budget in order to leave her options open.

In a June 21 letter to Council Vice President Steve Heffner, Zelenko states "rather than accepting or rejecting the FY 2017-18 budget proposal" the board "unilaterally altered and amended some provisions of my budget proposal without my permission or consent" and adopted the update version.

Heffner called it "a shock" when he read the rest of the letter where Zelenko proclaims "I have declined either to veto or accept the FY 2017-18 budget for the reason that there is no authorization in the Charter of the City of Burton for the City Council to initiate its own budget amendment proposals or to alter or amend those submitted by the Mayor."

Council voted on Monday, June 26, to hire outside counsel if Zelenko fails to approve the budget by July 1.

Zelenko held her own special meeting on Tuesday, July 27, which only one board member attended, to try and reopen budget discussions and explain her disagreements with the council's proposal.

She read her four-page letter during the meeting in an attempt to address the council's concerns over her proposed budget that called for the operating fund millage to be increased from 4 mills to 4.707 mills, which the council changed last year, in an attempt to head off projected budget shortfalls.

Heffner argued any amount of money that can go back to the voters was a positive move for the residents and no services were altered because of the change.

However, Zelenko argued any surplus in the budget -- including funds for employee positions that may not be filled -- is used for items such as road funding projects and city services.

Heffner and Councilman Vaughn Smith, the city's council finance chairman, said the mayor came back to the council with an amended budget June 15, four days before they approved their version, which did not offer enough time for them to review.

"What we're saying as a council is we can't throw all this money towards this pension and have all these employees as well," Smith said, pointing to a jump in the number of employees to 101 in the 2016 budget, the highest point since 2008 when the city employed 105 people.

"Instead of hiring employees we can't afford, I rather we give that money back to the residents and figure out where we're at," he commented.

Cuts were made in the council's budget to personnel, but Zelenko pointed out other changes to funds, including the motor pool, water, and sewer funds in the document, are not allowed given they are designated specifically for those purposes.

"You can't have it both ways," she said, adding some council members may not understand the budget process but are unwilling to place aside their egos. "You can't sit up there and claim we're going for an (emergency manager), spend, spend, spend, we've to stop spending and then voluntarily cut your revenues."

The cut in the general fund millage dropped revenue in that area by approximately $365,000 in the 2016-17 budget and $378,000 in the 2017-18 budget.

Zelenko said she believes the council is looking to score political points with their budget heading into fall election season.

"I think there is political posturing going on that will not only affect this year's council elections but setting the stage for the next mayoral election," Zelenko said.

Heffner disagreed with Zelenko's accusation.

"It just seems whenever we have a disagreement with the mayor, she claims it's politics," Heffner said. "It isn't political. Our job is to approve a budget and that's what we did."

Zelenko had planned to call for another meeting but following the meager turnout on Tuesday night and the council's move to seek legal counsel if the budget is not put in place she decided to pass on holding the meeting.

"I'm not intimated by it," she said. "Courts are there to resolve differences and there's definitely some differences here. Will it end up in court? I suspect it probably wi
Post Sat Jan 27, 2018 10:41 am 
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El Supremo

Burton clerk, deputy clerk on leave after police launch investigation
Updated Oct 5, 2017; Posted Oct 5, 2017

By Roberto Acosta racosta1@mlive.com
BURTON, MI -- The Burton clerk and deputy clerk are on paid administrative leave following a police investigation into their office.

Burton Mayor Paula Zelenko confirmed the investigation to city council members Monday, Oct. 2, during the council's meeting.

She did not go into explicit detail, nor did police, on the nature of the investigation, but Zelenko said the employees should not be presumed guilty.

Zelenko said during the meeting that until the findings of the investigation -- launched by Burton police following an accusation by a citizen -- are revealed she felt it was best to have them remove Clerk Teresa Karsney and Deputy Clerk Racheal Ervin-Boggs from the office.

However, the mayor stated the accusations were not tied to any election issues.

Karsney's attorney, Matthew L. Norwood, said the investigation is related to a property deal.

"On behalf of Teresa Karsney, I have been retained to represent her regarding this allegation," Norwood said in a statement sent to MLive-The Flint Journal. "She enjoys serving the citizens of Burton as their appointed clerk.

"She has hired me to conduct my own investigation into these allegations and from what I have learned so far, there was nothing she has done that included any criminal intent. This allegation involves a property deal that she is not a party to, and would best be handled in a civil court between the two appropriate parties. As anyone from this area can tell you, City of Burton politics can be very ugly."

Ervin-Boggs declined to comment on the investigation.

Rik Hayman, the mayor's chief of staff, has been sworn in as the acting clerk and human resources director Sue Warren is serving as deputy clerk, which some Burton council members questioned.

City attorney Amanda Doyle said the mayor has the authority to make the appointments. She added the employees currently on leave remain employed by the city.

Burton Councilman Dennis O'Keefe complained he was in the dark about the goings-on of the situation, a sentiment echoed by his fellow council members.

"I find out about it at a public meeting and this happens all the time," he argued. "I just think that's wrong. I think the council needs to be in the loop on these things and I don't ever get the memo."

A special council meeting has been set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, to discuss the issue in executive session, given the criminal nature of the investigation.

Other council members questioned the qualifications of the acting clerks. Zelenko commented Hayman is a certified election clerk, but he's never conducted an election on his own.

Genesee County Clerk-Register John Gleason, Davison Township Clerk Cindy Shields, Genesee Township Clerk Wayne Bates have been providing help as needed in the clerk's office.

There has been no discussion of potential compensation for their services, according to Councilman Vaughn Smith, the council's finance chairman.

Davison Township has also offered to assist in the upcoming Nov. 7 general election should the investigation not be resolved by that date.

Four of the seven city council seats are up for grabs on the November ballot.

Pre-election testing has been completed and absentee ballots sent out to residents that submitted an application, Zelenko said.

Burton police Chief Tom Osterholzer said the investigation has been turned over to the Genesee County Prosecutor's Office. The prosecutor's office said the matter is still under review.
Post Sat Jan 27, 2018 10:43 am 
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El Supremo

Attorney Tom Pabst went on the Mike Kilbreath Daily Gazette radio show and criticize the Burton Mayor and Prosecutor David Leyton. Pabst ha submitted a request for a criminal investigation into the Mayor of Burton the Prosecutors office had not acted.

Allegedly, after the show aired, the State Police went to Pabst and requested documents related to the request for an investigation.
Post Sat Jan 27, 2018 10:49 am 
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