Township asks Snyder to oust official for 'drunkenness'

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Vienna Township – — Smelling like alcohol, Supervisor Randy Taylor often stumbled about township government offices, once almost falling out of a chair.

His behavior veered from trancelike to boisterous, repeating himself on phone messages only to forget he ever made the calls.

He appeared so drunk at the Township Hall that another trustee asked him to leave the building on several occasions.

These were some of the findings of an attorney hired by the Vienna Township Board of Trustees to investigate Taylor's behavior, according to a report issued this fall.

The attorney's report has divided this quiet rural community north of Flint and led the board to invoke a little-known state law by asking Gov. Rick Snyder to remove Taylor from office.

Some people interviewed in the probe said they didn't witness erratic behavior by Taylor while a supporter said Taylor has been a changed man since March, when the last incident cited in the report occurred.

The board charged him with "habitual drunkenness," which, along with extortion, official misconduct and a felony conviction, are grounds for removal of an elected official, according to Michigan Election Law Act 116.

"We're spending too much time on this," said Trustee Nancy Belill. "We need to get through it quickly and get back to work."

Michigan officials were unaware of the drunkenness part of the law ever being used to oust a public official.

The governor referred the complaint to Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is looking into the charge.

Snyder has been reluctant about removing officials from office, said a spokesman. He prefers such matters to be handled locally.

Taylor, 59, declined to discuss the investigation.

"Obviously, I'm not happy about it," he said after a board meeting last month. "Not knowing what's next. ... It would weigh on anyone."

The investigative report quoted several people as saying Taylor told them his behavior was caused by pain medicine he takes for a bad back.

He also told them he sometimes had a beer while on the medication, which, at various times, included OxyContin, a Fentanyl patch and six Vicodin a day, according to the report.

The investigation suggests his erratic behavior stopped in March after trustees confronted him about it.

Taylor has told others at trustee meetings that he stopped drinking alcohol completely in March. Three months later, he resumed drinking but only lightly in social settings, he told trustees.

Erratic behavior cited

Vienna Township prides itself on its bucolic atmosphere, offering "the finest in country lifestyle living," according to its website.

Things have been far from quiet at Township Hall over the past year, though Taylor's tenure started with an easy election victory in 2012.

The soft-spoken carpenter, who had been a trustee for eight years, won 63 percent of the vote.

As supervisor, he is the chief executive of the township, which has 13,300 residents. The job pays $28,000 a year.

"He's not afraid to speak his mind when someone asks for it," said a friend, Mitch Neeley.

The erratic behavior cited in the seven-page investigative report occurred last year and early this year.

Witnesses described repeated incidents of Taylor appearing to be drunk or high at government offices, board meetings and other types of meetings, according to the report.

The 14 people quoted in the report were board members, township workers and officials with other townships and agencies. Most declined comment for this story.

Stacy Ryan, the township sewer and water clerk, said in the report that Taylor visited the Township Hall once or twice a week and appeared to be drunk or high every time.

When Taylor smelled like alcohol, he spoke loudly and ranted nonsensically, she said. Other times, he appeared to be in a trance, answering questions after a long silence or not responding at all.

Sherry Palmer, township deputy treasurer, described similar Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior during Taylor's visits to the government building.

"When Supervisor Taylor appears to be under the influence of drugs, he usually sits quietly in his chair, his eyes are glazed over, and he speaks very slowly," Palmer said in the report.

Trustee Frank Lemieux said Taylor behaved oddly in the past year at meetings of the township board, the township Business Development Authority and the Genesee County Road Commission.

Taylor slurred his speech, spoke deliberately, lost track of what was being discussed and sometimes fell asleep, Lemieux said in the report.

Lemieux, Palmer and Ryan declined comment.

Trustees, Taylor clash

Trustees confronted Taylor about his behavior after several board meetings on undisclosed dates.

He told them he had a drinking problem and struggled with the side effects of his pain medication, according to the report.

Belill, one of the trustees, told a reporter she spoke to Taylor several times over several years about his actions.

"I told him he has to step up and do whatever is needed to make sure the job is taken care of," she said.

Taylor assured her he would do so, Belill said.

The issue apparently came to a head in March when Taylor walked into government offices reeking of alcohol, swaying and falling into a worker's desk, according to the report.

He told township Treasurer Dave Cain, one of seven people who witnessed the incident, that he "had a problem," the investigation found.

Someone called the Genesee County Sheriff's Office and a deputy spoke with Taylor, said the report. The deputy, Curt Harrington, said Taylor smelled a little like alcohol but didn't seem to be drunk.

At the next board meeting, April 7, Cain asked the township attorney to research how a public official could be removed from office for continually being under the influence of intoxicants, according to minutes of the meeting.

Cain declined comment.

After interviewing 21 people, including seven who didn't witness erratic behavior, Leo Carey, the Flint attorney who investigated Taylor, told the board he believed the supervisor had been habitually under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both.

Carey didn't return emails or phone calls.

Taylor's supporters say the habitual drunkenness charge is much ado about nothing.

"I'm not saying Randy is a perfect man," said Larry Eaton, chairman of the development authority. "But he's doing better the last eight months. He's going to all the meetings. He's taking care of business."

If the board's goal was to stop Taylor's erratic behavior, it has succeeded, said Eaton, pointing out the absence of complaints since March. 223-4186