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Clinton Twp. trustee’s role reduced over bribery case

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Clinton Township — The board of trustees voted Monday to strip duties from one of its embattled members who is facing federal bribery charges over allegedly taking bribes in exchange for his votes on municipal contracts.

The board had sought to remove Dean Reynolds from all township committees and assignments until further notice. Reynolds appeared in federal court Thursday on claims he accepted more than $87,000 in bribes in exchange for his vote on municipal contracts since 2012.

The board members said only the governor has the authority to remove Reynolds, whose term ends next month, from office. But the severity of the allegations pushed them to keep him from decision-making.

“He was arrested and we don’t know all of the specifics of those charges but what we believe is they are charged related to a ... very significant contract for the township,” Trustee Paul Gieleghem said. “And as result of that, if those allegations are true, we have an obligation to protect all future decision making by the board from being tainted by further charges.”

Reynolds did not attend the board meeting Monday night, during which several community members spoke out about the controversy.

Many supported his colleagues’ decision and wondered about the allegations. “It makes me question every committee and every decision that he was involved in,” Desiree Novak said.

Reynolds, a Democrat, is in his third term on the board since 2004. That term ends this year; he is running for township supervisor against township Supervisor Robert Cannon, a Republican incumbent, in the Nov. 8 election.

Cannon has said if Reynolds wins the election and is convicted of the bribery charges, he will be “removed from office immediately.” A trustee would then be required to nominate a new supervisor, who needs at least four votes from the board to be appointed. That person would serve until the 2018 gubernatorial election. If the board is unable to select a new supervisor, there will be a special election, Cannon said.

When a community member asked whether Reynolds was obliged to continue attending meetings, Cannon replied that “he can miss as many board meetings as he wants.”

If convicted, Reynolds faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 in the federal bribery charges. His preliminary examination was scheduled for Nov. 3.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has said his arrest and corruption charges stem from an investigation into systemic corruption in several municipalities in southeast Michigan, mostly in Macomb County. Investigators used telephone wiretaps, audio and video recordings by “cooperative individuals,” undercover operations and subpoenas of financial records and other documents in their probe.

The federal criminal complaint includes a tapped phone conversation in July 2015 during which Reynolds allegedly refers to a businessman and an $18 million contract.

Though the trustees unanimously voted to end Reynolds’ assignments, some also cautioned that he has not been convicted.

“I thought we were still in America and people were innocent until proven guilty,” said Trustee Jenifer “Joie” West, who voted to remove him from assignments.

The trustees also reviewed a request from Cannon to discuss a trash hauling pact with Sterling Heights-based Rizzo Environmental Services, whose political action committee has shelled out more than $310,000 to politicians and special-interest groups in recent years, records show.

A Rizzo spokesman has acknowledged the company is cooperating with investigators after the FBI said an unnamed businessman admitted bribing Reynolds in exchange for favorable treatment on an $18 million contract.

In 2010, Clinton Township signed a multimillion contract with Rizzo, which hauls trash in more than 40 southeast Michigan communities and has recycling facilities, after the company was the low-bidder. The township tried to solicit bids in 2013 but voted to extend the Rizzo contract in a 4-3 vote, township meeting minutes show.

On Feb. 22, Reynolds made a motion to extend Rizzo’s contract through 2026, according to the minutes. The extension includes an option to solicit bids as early as 2019 “if the board so chooses.”

During the meeting Monday, Cannon and other township officials said Rizzo had the lowest service cost and the board was not aware of issues.

“We know if we change companies, we’re going to be paying more,” Cannon said. “I would not recommend pulling this contract.”

Trustee Kenneth Pearl added: “Had we known what was going on, I guess we would have rebid.”