BELDING — With a standing room only crowd, the intensity of Tuesday evening’s Belding City Council meeting reached a boiling point once the floor was opened for citizen comment.
Several residents and business owners of Belding and neighboring communities spoke in succession, each with a plea that City Manager Meg Mullendore resign from her position “immediately.”
One by one, members of the audience cited reasons ranging from alleged statements made by Mullendore in public meetings regarding the possible closing of the Covered Village Mall, the handling of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and questions regarding her honesty during her interview process a year ago when she was hired by the city.
Once the citizen comment period, which lasted for 41 minutes, came to a close, Councilman Mike Scheid asked Mullendore if she would be willing to give her resignation in light of statements that were made by citizens.
“Do we have to ask for your resignation, or will you give it?” he asked.
Mullendore responded, “I’m not willing to give it, no.”
Concerns with the Covered Village Mall
Craig Gill, owner of the Shortstop Motor Sports store in the Covered Village Mall, addressed the council with concerns that Mullendore had made comments in public meetings that the mall itself would be closing in July 2014.
“This has brought a lot of concern not only to customers that come to our businesses but this also reached the school newsletter and created a lot of issues in the community,” he said. “We’re still out there answering questions that shouldn’t have been out there.”
The information was never sent out in a school newsletter, but rather in an email from Belding Area Schools Superintendent Sara Shriver to her staff about only a possibility that the mall could be closing in July.
Gill said he believes any comments made about the status of the mall, as Covered Village Mall Board president, should come from him.
“Obviously I take this very personally,” he said. “Any discussion publicly about the mall, being the mall president, is something that should come from me. I feel that if a city representative is going to make some sort of public discussion, then I should have been confronted … and I was not.”
Mullendore told The Daily News after Tuesday’s meeting that she had indeed discussed a possible closing of the mall after speaking with the owners of Silk City Sports, located within the mall. She said she had been made aware that there was a possibility the interior of the mall could close due to financial hardship, but all stores that had external access from outside would remain open.
Otisco Township resident and Belding Chamber of Commerce Vice President Craig Crebessa stated he wanted to make light of items in reference to Meg Mullendore’s second interview with the City Council from March 14, 2013, in regards to business.
“Back in her interview, under skilled business relations, ‘she does the research to get the correct answer,’” Crebessa recited. “Given the situation regarding the mall, she didn’t get this information. She just started making statements throughout the community.”
Crebessa then stated he was disturbed by Mullendore’s comments regarding a new business entering the mall during a Belding Chamber of Commerce meeting in December.
Crebessa said, on the subject of a furniture store opening in the mall, the business owners had approached Mullendore about a lack of support from the city.
“Ms. Mullendore had made a comment to us that the city is not a marketing company, that it is a government body,” he said. “We were surprised by that, and taken aback by that, given that we are a chamber.”
Alleged issues with FOIA
Belding resident Lori Shearer made reference to Mullendore’s handling of several FOIA requests submitted by Belding resident Kimberly Orlich that were denied by Mullendore.
Shearer claimed that Mullendore misinterpreted the statute regarding FOIA legislation, citing a statement made by Nelson Miller of Cooley Law School.
“He indicated that it was a misinterpretation of that statute. I agree with him,” she said. “That statute is intended for people that are incarcerated not to be able to make FOIA requests.”
According to Shearer, denying Orlich several FOIA requests that were made before her arrests, was a misinterpretation of the statute.
“I find it deplorable that we have not only wasted our resources doing this, in taking this type of action,” she said. “Whether you agree with what she is doing or not, we took resources from this community and from other communities.”
Mullendore told The Daily News that as she states with each FOIA request denial, she is in accordance with Public Act 442 15.231 Sec. 2, which states: “It is the public policy of this state that all persons, except those persons incarcerated in a state or local correctional facility are, entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees.”
Mullendore then states in her report, “Consistent with this act, the legislation does not stipulate whether incarceration be at the time the request is made or when the request is processed as such the public body was within its rights to deny the request and did so.”
According to Mullendore, the legislation is open to interpretation, and she is within her rights to act as she has in regards to denying Orlich’s FOIA requests.
Shearer also complained that a FOIA she filed on behalf of her law office took four months to be acknowledged.
“I took the appropriate channels in following up on a FOIA request from Nov. 20 that went unanswered until March 17,” she said. “I find it very coincidental that it was not handled until the day before this meeting.”
Alleged lack of leadership
Belding resident Michelle Cooper expressed discontent with the way Mullendore has handled her responsibilities throughout her first year as city manager.
“I am here to express my sheer disappointment with the lack of leadership, the lack of professional conduct, and the unethical behavior of our city manager,” she said.
Cooper alleged Mullendore’s own troubles with her personal finances are directly impacting her performance as city manager.
“This is creating a hostile relationships between business owners and city government,” she said. “She’s financially unstable … we as taxpayers, citizens and constituents, want her removed, in no uncertain terms. She’s done nothing positive in this community. She’s destroyed it single-handedly, she’s cost people life-long friendships and she’s torn many homes apart and turned many families upside down.”
Alleged dishonesty in interview
Belding resident and business owner Dan Blunt stated he had concerns with a situation involving Mullendore and her tenure as village manager of Cassopolis before her time in Belding.
Using FOIA, Blunt acquired documents from an investigation performed by the Michigan State Police involving Mullendore and Cassopolis Police Chief Frank Williams.
According to the documents, she was investigated for obstruction of justice, in which a file containing documents of a criminal investigation in regards to an infant death had gone missing after last having been seen in her village office.
After several interviews over a period of several months, it was stated by Williams that the files had been found under Mullendore’s desk. Williams accused Mullendore of deliberately hiding the files, while Mullendore stated that she was unaware of how the documents arrived there.
Mullendore eventually resigned from her position, stating she believed she could no longer work effectively for the village as its manager. Upon her resignation, the investigation was dropped and no charges were filed.
Blunt stated that Mullendore’s comments during her interview process on March 14, 2013, in front of the Belding City Council conflicted with the information he received from the State Police regarding the investigation.
According to the meeting minutes from the March 14, 2013, council meeting, Scheid asked Mullendore if she had a problem with the police chief in Cassopolis.
According to the meeting minutes, Mullendore responded that she and the chief “had to agree to disagree, but that was not reciprocated.”
Mullendore stated that she and the chief could not come to an agreement on budget cuts in Cassopolis.
Blunt then promptly asked for Mullendore’s resignation.
“I would strongly recommend as constituents and on behalf of the community here, that she be asked to resign immediately,” he said.
A total of nine individuals addressed the council and Mullendore during the public comment period. Individuals such as Dennis Cooper continued with their plea that Mullendore resign from her position, or be forced to resign by council vote.
“I urge you to make a motion to call for her resignation tonight,” Cooper said. “That’s what we ask you to do, for the sake of our town, for the good of our people.”
Following public comment, Scheid accused Mullendore of lying to him.
“You lied to me in your interview when I asked you down in Cassopolis,” Scheid said. “You said there was a gag order on it. There was not.”
Mullendore said Scheid was incorrect, and she did not say she had a gag order in regards to Cassopolis, but that she had a confidentiality clause associated with her departure as city manager of Buchanan, before her time in Cassopolis.
“You asked about Buchanan and I told you there was a confidentiality clause and that I was not allowed to discuss it,” she said.
“As far as I’m concerned, (Mullendore) should be gone,” Scheid responded.
As Councilman Jerry Lallo made his statement, he was interrupted by audience members who demanded he take a stance on Mullendore.
“Is he going to take a stance?” an audience member shouted, before Mayor Ron Gunderson asked the crowd to be quiet.
“We asked the council a question, are you going to answer it?” another member of the audience interjected.
“You know I’ve been to your office several times and I’ve told you exactly what I’d like to see done,” Lallo said. “Whenever we discuss matters and I want things done, I’ve received a “no” in response. That’s the only thing I will tell you.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tom Jones said he was disappointed with the lack of research performed by the Michigan Municipal League in performing their evaluations of city managers before advising them as candidates to the council.
Gunderson closed the meeting by stating that council will evaluate the issue regarding Mullendore during her one-year evaluation on April 15.
“I do believe, Mike, that the issue you are discussing at hand, can be discussed when the review comes up, if you’ll agree to that,” Gunderson said.
During her six-month evaluation in November, Mullendore received a positive review from council members and received a raise in salary from $72,500 to $75,000.
“I appreciate the input, I’ve heard a lot of this already,” Gunderson said. “As far as some of the questions that have come up, I understand completely your concerns. We’ve already set up for the yearly evaluation that is on the agenda for the second meeting of the month of April, April 15.”
As Gunderson motioned for the meeting to be adjourned, complaints rang out from the crowd.
“Why do we have to wait?”
“We asked tonight.”
“You want to give her another month to do more damage? Despicable.”
“We want the motion tonight.”
Gunderson’s motion then passed in a 4-1 vote amid the shouts, with Scheid opposed.
“As far as I’m concerned, we weren’t done,” Scheid told The Daily News.
After Tuesday evening’s meeting Mullendore told the Daily News that she will not resign and believes she has done no wrong.
“My job performance has not created a situation where I feel I have to resign,” she said. “In a professional capacity, regardless of the innuendos and insinuations that were made, with my merits and willingness to continue, I will not step down.”