West Bloomfield assessor quits, renewing political battle
West Bloomfield Township — As the supervisor sees it, the assessor stepping down is “the greatest crisis” the township “has ever faced.” Ask the clerk and it’s a “controversy that doesn’t exist.”
No matter how you look at it, Lisa Hobart’s departure is the latest in a series of political battles that have erupted over the past few years between township officials.
Residents have seen trustees publicly attacked by fellow board members on issues; some trustees criticizing their treasurer’s ability; citizens calling for recalls of trustees; and the clerk and the supervisor butting heads.
Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste claims “harassment” and “forced resignation” of Hobart by several elected officials has created the latest crisis.
But the township’s elected clerk, Catherine Shaughnessy, said the issue was contrived by Ureste and Hobart for political gain.
Hobart, whose last day was Tuesday, could not be reached for comment.
Ureste issued a press release this week titled “Township finances placed in peril by clerk Cathy Shaughnessy.” It said Shaughnessy and trustees Lawrence Brown, Howard Rosenberg and Diane Swimmer “have been politically attacking the assessor leaving her no choice but to resign due to the horrific working conditions.”
“Holy Cow! This is nothing more than more politics,” said Shaughnessy, who has been targeted for recall twice this year in petition requests that failed to pass approval by the Oakland County Elections Commission.
“No one has been harassed and no one ever asked anyone to retire. This all resulted because the assessor and supervisor colluded in a plan in which she (assessor) attempted to retire, collect benefits and then be rehired and double-dip on benefits and pay.”
Shaughnessy said the arrangement would have violated pension law and Hobart would have had to defer her pension and forfeit all retiree and health benefits. Under the arrangement, Hobart agreed to drop her lawsuit, and after retiring, return to work through 2016, providing she report only to Ureste.
“We voted ‘no’ earlier this month and she gave us two weeks’ notice that she was to resign,” Shaughnessy said.
Ureste also alleges a human resources director and the building director have also resigned due to harassment and a hostile work environment created by Shaughnessy and other trustees.
“Except the assessor, not one single person that has left has pointed a finger at the board,” Shaughnessy said.
Ureste did not return telephone calls Tuesday. Her release said without Hobart, under state law “the State Tax Commission shall seize the tax roll, which could cost the township hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Shaughnessy said while Hobart was “a good assessor” the township is contacting possible replacement assessors and officials do not foresee any state intervention or “crisis.”
Hobart has been the township assessor for 16 years but told the board in November she planned to retire, Shaughnessy said. The board subsequently voted to seek assessing estimates from the county equalization department, which concerned one resident, Adel Alkatib, enough to seek a recall petition on Shaughnessy and trustees Brown and Rosenberg.
Brown said he has been the target of six recalls, none of which has succeeded. He suspects other officials are upset at how he has not sided or voted in concert with Ureste on some township matters.
Shaughnessy said Ureste has accused her of violating the open meetings act, racial discrimination, and improperly using township mailings to promote her office. Shaughnessy has repeatedly denied all the charges.