Weingarden (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
West Bloomfield Township — The township treasurer is expected to be a hot topic when the board of trustees in this community of picturesque lakes and winding roads meets Monday night.
On Oct. 9, residents wanting to do business in Treasurer Teri Weingarden’s office in the township hall found her and six staff members missing and a handwritten note that read: “Closed due to Political Issues. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Weingarden explained “things had built up,” she was desperate and did not know what else to do. So she shut it down.
“Things have gotten very bad here,” said Weingarden, who is in her second elected term as treasurer. “That day I was physically sick to my stomach. A couple of my employees were crying. And my deputy treasurer said she was thinking of leaving because people were making it too difficult to do her job.
“I wanted to have a sit-down with the supervisor to resolve some issues,” said Weingarden, whose annual salary is more than $106,000. “I thought it was best to just send everyone home and have them come back fresh the next day.”
Township Clerk Catherine Shaughnessy has a different view of what happened.
“She’s incompetent and had a meltdown,” Shaughnessy said. “She has had five years to learn the job while collecting a half-million dollars in pay but hasn’t done it. The office is a mess and I’m worried.”
Weingarden admits she’s had five deputy treasurers since 2008 — the last resigned in August after officials chopped his pay nearly in half. But she claims her best employees have been wooed to other departments or “become tired of endless infighting at township hall.”
Tonight, Shaughnessy said the seven-member board will decide whether to expand the powers of an attorney to investigate “irregularities in the Treasurer’s Office.”
Weingarden will ask the board to approve hiring a temporary “auditor consultant” to review the cash management division of her office, which oversees about $60 million in investments and financial transactions for the township. She said the position has gone vacant for months and she needs outside help to train a new hire.
“We (township hall) have had tremendous turnover in the past few years,” Weingarden said. “People just become tired of working under the conditions and take jobs elsewhere, often at lower pay. And others have died. I’m not saying the job killed them, but the stress certainly didn’t help.”
Welcome to West Bloomfield Township, population 65,000, where politics, income and home values often exceed that of Oakland County neighbors. It’s where officials have sought personal protection orders and injunctions against other board members. Oddly, today’s battles are not partisan. The supervisor, clerk, treasurer and four part-time trustees are all elected Democrats.
The recent infighting comes as a surprise to longtime residents like attorney Michael Alan Schwartz, a township trustee from 1992-96.
Schwartz, who’s lived there more than 30 years, said the closing of a treasurer’s office during public hours is unprecedented and has “no legitimate reason.”
“I’m a taxpayer and I find it hard to believe something like that happened,” Schwartz said. “To close down that operation could have an effect on a township. We had some battles (as a trustee) but we were always civil to one another. In the past four years, it seems more personal than over political philosophies. You’ve had township officials suing each other ... accusing each other of things.”
Attorney Albert Holtz, a township resident since 1975, said “no board has been able to get along with each other.”
“There have been at least two factions — no matter who’s there, Republicans or Democrats,” Holtz said. “I think a lot of this infighting is personal animosity.”
Board members are concerned.
“I was disappointed and angry to learn that Ms. Weingarden closed her office, preventing our township residents from getting their necessary bills paid,” trustee Howard Rosenberg said. “Her actions were inexcusable and plain wrong. As an elected official she should always put the people first.”
Trustee Steven Kaplan doesn’t understand criticisms aimed at Weingarden.
“We have had audits that show all financial transactions are being done properly,” he said. “There is obvious animosity between the treasurer and several board members, but the treasurer’s office is being run well. Should the office have been closed? No.”