Taylor's elected treasurer resigns after settling suit

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Taylor — The elected treasurer of Taylor resigned from his post in a letter Monday night after reaching a settlement in his lawsuit against the city.

Edward Bourassa, elected to four-year terms in 2013 and 2017, had his salary frozen in recent months by the City Council in a dispute about whether he was handling his work duties effectively.

The former treasurer cited "serious health issues affecting (his) mobility" in the letter, adding that he was "not able to be physically present" but had "discharged (his) duties remotely."

The salary freeze led to Bourassa filing a federal lawsuit against the city, through attorney Michael Pitt. 

Bourassa maintained that he'd been working from home online in a "highly competent and efficient manner" while recovering from an injury he suffered after undergoing a hip replacement in February 2018, according to his lawsuit. After his surgery, Bourassa said hospital staff dropped him while loading him into his vehicle, causing spine and nerve injuries that prevent him from walking. 

Bourassa said when the City Council stopped his pay, it violated his rights, including those protected by the Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act. He filed the lawsuit against the city and council members, saying his opponents want him removed because they disagree with him politically. 

"All records that Bourassa needed to perform his duties were available to him online," his lawsuit reads. "Bourassa would usually call back his customers within a matter of minutes after receiving notification through the internet portal."

Councilman Daniel Bzura filed an affidavit with the city clerk in February, arguing that Bourassa had not completed the responsibilities of a treasurer. Among Bzura's claims: That Bourassa had failed to review the status of tax collections and daily deposits and had not co-signed some wire transfers. 

"Failure of treasurer to answer constituents questions as the treasurer since he has not been in the office since January 2018 and his phone was routed to direct all constituent phone calls to staff since May 2018," Bzura's affidavit reads.

But in his letter Monday, which was delivered to City Council, Mayor Rick Sollars and the Taylor city attorney, Bourassa said he and the city agreed to settle the legal dispute for $45,000, from which he'd pay his own taxes and his legal fees to Pitt.

What he did not agree to, the letter says, is a gag order.

After insisting that the treasurer's office is in "good hands" due to its "dedicated and highly competent staff," Bourassa's letter ends with a warning to the city's approximately 63,000 residents: "There is a pervasive aroma of arrogance and egomania permeating city government. I am a victim of this hubris. Some of our leaders are not trustworthy, and we all need to keep a careful eye on them to make sure they act professionally, morally, and legally."

But Tim Woolley, 49, chair of the Taylor City Council, not only disputed that the city ever asked for a gag order, he says he never would've agreed to any deal containing one.

"I refused to vote for anything that has a gag order," Woolley said. "Residents deserved to know what happened."

Woolley was elected in November 2013 in the same election as Bourassa, and said the dispute was "never personal," just about "attendance and performance."

The resignation letter was to be officially filed at Tuesday's council meeting, he said, and the city will open a 30-day process allowing people interested in being appointed to the post to apply.

While anyone can put a resume in, Woolley said he "highly (doubts)" any of the permanent hires in the treasurer's office would do so.

Woolley said he would've been "prepared to fight 100 percent, confident (the city) would win," but that such a fight could've cost "three times" the actual settlement amount, and wasn't deemed in the city's best interest.

Karl Ziomek, spokesman for the city, said the dispute came down to two "deep concerns" that surfaced as early as "mid-2014," months into Bourassa's first term: "performance and attendance."

Over the years, city council members had come to believe that Bourassa had "vacated the position," Ziomek said. That resulted in the vote to freeze his pay as the city investigated.

"Our employees and our supervisors, they have to go to work," Ziomek said.

City Council will appoint a treasurer to fill the rest of Bourassa's term, and voters will get to choose the next treasurer on the normal schedule, in November 2021.

Bourassa could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.