By Jim Newell
The war of words and allegations between Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett and Clerk Penny Shults continued during the board of trustees meeting on Monday, with Shults reading her own statement into the record.
But both parties say they want to eventually put this dispute behind them and focus on township business.
Shults said she has been feeling “a growing sense of intimidation, harassment and bullying” from Barnett and wants it to stop. That’s why, she said, she went to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office to file a complaint.
“I’m not mad. I’m not even upset. I’m not going to question the motive behind this. There’s one person that’s upset and it’s not me. I’ve never assaulted anyone, ever,” Barnett said. “But to say that there’s frustration here is an understatement.”
The situation surfaced after Shults went to the sheriff’s office March 22 and told investigators in the Special Investigations Unit that she felt intimidated and that she had been advised to go to the SIU office.
In her comments to investigators, Shults says “there has been a growing sense of intimidation and bullying and harassing within the course of 12 hours, it’s made me feel extremely threatened and very isolated and, I didn’t feel safe,” according to statements in the OCSO report.
Shults’s full statement before the township board on why she went to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office to file a complaint appears at the end of this article.
During the township’s board of trustees meeting on April 2, Barnett read a statement disputing any allegations that he assaulted Shults by bumping her chair during a meeting of township department heads on March 20.
Shults says that she never claimed Barnett bumped her chair.
In the OCSO report, Shults is cited as saying that Barnett entered a conference room at Township Hall with materials in his hand and that he “slightly nudged her with his left elbow and forearm, reaching across her to place the items on the table” before saying “morning” and walking out.
“He made contact with me and he’s never done that before,” Shults is quoted as reporting.
A full copy of the report is available by request at the Clerk’s Office in Township Hall.
Shults was not present at the April 2 meeting but did read a statement and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office incident report during the board meeting on Monday.
In the statement, Shults said she never intended on making the complaint public.
“As I stated in the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office complaint I was not looking to file criminal charges or hurt Chris in any way. I had nowhere to go with my complaint and I wanted the harassment toward me to stop,” Shults wrote.
Barnett addressed the allegations and read a statement refuting the claim during the board of trustees meeting on April 2. He voluntarily met with Oakland County Sheriff’s Office investigators on March 30 to address the allegations.
“I never intended to file any criminal charges,” Shults said, adding that she’s satisfied with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office investigation results and the decision not to pursue any charges.
Treasurer Donni Steele was not at the board meeting on Monday but did send a statement to be read into the record. In that statement Steele says she never witnessed any “assault” at any of the meetings.
“For the record and transparency, I was an attendee and witness during the entire department meeting on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 and I did not witness any assault, or chair bumping. There was no discussion or distress witnessed from a chair bumping; there was no discussion from anyone regarding harassment, bullying, intimidation, threats or assault in the departmental meeting, or BOT (Board of Trustees) meeting, or closed BOT meeting,” Steele wrote.
Steele’s statement goes on to say that she believes the township should hire and pay for a private audit from an unaffiliated human resource firm or attorney to “conduct a private investigation regarding all meetings which lead to Penny Shults filing an assault report.”
“As a Township board member, and employee, we should never allow another board member (or employee) reporting false characterization about anyone to the police,” Steele wrote.
Shults has been employed in the township since April 18, 1989 and is in the second year of her third term as clerk. Prior to becoming clerk, Shults worked in the assessor’s office.
“As always, I represent the township with excellence and I will continue to do so,” Shults said, adding that she hopes the issues will be worked out between she and Barnett. “I’m confident that it will.”
Clerk Penny Shults’s statement (printed as presented in its entirety):
Why I went to Oakland County Sheriff’s Office to file a complaint
September 14, 2017 At a local pet grooming ribbon cutting Chris Barnett described and joked on ONTV camera about punching me in the eye. His comments included, “Our Clerk Penny Shults is the happiest person in Orion. Even when you punch her in the eye she still comes up smiling. I didn’t punch her in the eye.” Everyone started laughing but his comments both frightened and embarrassed me and I didn’t know what to say or do.
March 19, 2018 In a closed Board meeting during an ongoing, heated argument with me, Chris Barnett yelled that he is tired of this f..king pissing match, he aggressively shoved back his chair and began lifting his leg like he was peeing at me, like a dog.
March 20, 2018 As I was standing alone in the supervisors conference room where a department head meeting was to take place, Chris Barnett came in the room, nudged me with his elbow and forearm, reaching across me to place items on the table then walked out of the room.
March 22, 2018 Intimidated and frightened that in the course of 12 hours, the ongoing hostility, isolation, bullying, and harassment towards me escalated to include vulgar gestures and physical contact, I contacted the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office who instructed me to file a complaint with Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
As I stated in the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office complaint I was not looking to file criminal charges or hurt Chris in any way. I had nowhere to go with my complaint and I wanted the harassment toward me to stop.
This was an issue that I never intended on making public. Chris Barnett make this a public Board issue at the April 2, 2018 Orion Township Board meeting where I would not be present due to a scheduled family vacation. Only one side was presented and I have the right to present by side.
Presented to the Orion Township Board of Trustees on April 16, 2018 by Penny S. Shults, Orion Township Clerk.