STANTON — Stanton city commissioners spent much of their time during Thursday’s rescheduled meeting discussing and voting on changes, updates and policies.
The commissioners voted in a new commissioner, updated the city’s Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) policy and contentiously approved the new city manager’s contract.
After operating with five of six city commissioners since Feb. 14, Mayor Ken Burris brought his suggestion for a new commissioner to the meeting.
Burris recommended Jennifer Blum, sister of Department of Public Works Director Jamie Blum, to fill the vacant position which opened up after Burris took oath as mayor. Blum previously ran for commissioner in 2011.
“There’s no conflict with her brother (Jamie) working here,” Burris said during Thursday’s meeting. “It would be unconstitutional to try and stop somebody from running for office just because their relative works for the city.”
Commissioners voted 4-1 to appoint Jennifer with Commissioner Karl Yoder voting “no.”
“I just felt like it wasn’t necessarily appropriate with her being a relative of a city employee,” Yoder said. “It’s not so much that she can’t function properly while Jamie is here, it’s just better not to.”
Yoder said he had someone else in mind, but he did not provide a name.
After the meeting was complete, Ray Holloway, a Stanton Planning Commission member, brought to The Daily News’ attention that the motion to appoint Jennifer might violate Stanton’s City Charter.
Section 6.11 Anti-Nepotism of the charter states: “Unless the commission shall determine by unanimous vote of all members of the commission that the best interests of the city shall be served, the following relatives of any elective or appointive officer are disqualified from holding any position of employment during the term of office of said elective or appointive officer: spouse, child, parent, grandchild, grandparent, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister or the spouses of any of them. All relationships shall include those arising from adoption. This section shall in no way disqualify bona fide employees of the city from maintaining their positions of employment if their relative or spouse becomes an elective or appointive officer of the city.”
Burris told The Daily News the anti-nepotism clause is for appointing or electing relatives of commissioners and does not prevent a person from being elected to the city’s commission because he or she has a relative working for the city.
“If (Jennifer) was already a commissioner then we would need a unanimous vote of the commissioner to allow the city to hire Jamie,” Burris said. “If you read the tail end (of Section 6.11), it says she is all right being there.”
Prompted by The Daily News filing a FOIA request on Feb. 15, Stanton’s attorney Clif Bloom reviewed and updated the city’s policy, which hadn’t seen changes since 2014.
One of the changes to Michigan’s FOIA law prohibits government agencies from charging more than 10 cents per page for copies of public record. The changes also require governments to provide records electronically unless the local government doesn’t have the technology to do so.
The policy goes over the process, city’s response, fees, eligibility, appeals and denials. According to the FOIA procedures and guidelines, the policy will be uploaded for the public to view at stantononline.com.
Along with the policy and procedures and guidelines, the city commissioners also voted City Clerk/Treasurer Lori Braman to be the city’s FOIA coordinator.
“Since (Braman) is the one that receives the mail, I thought she would be the best person,” City Manger Elizabeth Pynaert said.
Although Pynaert has been serving as Stanton’s city manager since Feb. 15, city commissioners had not reviewed or voted on her contract until Thursday.
“We agreed on $47,000 per year,” Burris aid. “Plus, I think we ought to pay her backpay because she did step up.”
According to Pynaert, the backpay ends up being $768.
Pynaert’s will work for the city full-time as part-time city manager and part-time community liaison. Pynaert ensured the contract listed she was responsible for the duties of the community liaison.
Pynaert’s contract is for one year and at will. The contract includes a clause for six months of severance pay if the city commission fires her before completion of her contract without reason.
Commissioners Charles Miel and Krista Johnson had qualms about the severance clause.
“It’s an at-will contract,” Miel said. “We’re at will to fire you. In my mind, (the severance) shouldn’t go past the end of the contract.”
“Bloom said that is what every city manager has in their contract,” Pynaert explained. “It is common. It’s because we’re committing to one year, and if you fire us for no cause, with no reason, that’s why the severance it paid. It’s to prevent litigation.”
Miel and Johnson voted against the agreement, but the motion passed 3-2.
Commissioners have the option to renew Pynaert’s contract after one year.