By Jim Newell
Township Supervisor Chris Barnett says he will “not be intimidated by false and malicious accusations” made by Clerk Penny Shults that he assaulted her by bumping the back of her chair during a staff meeting.
The alleged assault supposedly occurred at the beginning of a township department heads meeting on March 20. Shults reportedly stayed at the meeting for another hour-and-a-half or more, according to multiple township officials.
Barnett addressed the allegations and read a statement refuting the claim during the board of trustees meeting on Monday.
Shults did not attend the board meeting. The Lake Orion Review did try to contact Shults at her office for comment, but a staff member informed The Review that she did not expect Shults back in the office until next week.
Barnett’s full statement appears at the end of this article.
“I wanted you to hear it from me. And as much as I think it would be easy not to talk about it I don’t want to have some allegation come out down the road and have anyone say, ‘Why wasn’t this brought to the board’s attention?’” Barnett said to board members.
Treasurer Donni Steele, who was at the March 20 staff meeting, said she did not witness anything that constituted an assault, adding that at least seven township officials were at the meeting.
“I was at that meeting and I’m surprised because I never saw any assault. We were in that meeting for two hours, it was a painful meeting but assault, no,” Steele said. “I believe that everyone of the people that were in that room would agree with my public comment that it was a heated conversation, but assault, no.”
Barnett informed the board he spoke with the sheriff’s office on Monday “to see where they were at in their process, if you will, and they said that it was completed with my interview on Friday.”
Barnett voluntarily met with Oakland County Sheriff’s Office investigators on March 30 to address the allegation.
“I have requested that they send me a copy of that report and as soon as I get that report I will send it to the board, just like we would for any other (human resources) claim that would happen in township hall,” Barnett said, adding that he has used the Freedom of Information Act to “request other information that relates to this claim.”
Barnett assured board members he would provide them a copy of the police report once the sheriff’s office forwards that report to him.
Barnett also said he was informed “that the case is closed, there’s no valid complaint.”
Attorney Dan Kelly said the board cannot do anything until it receives the completed police report, but after that the board, if it wished, could appoint someone to investigate further. He recommended an outside investigator, such as an attorney or human resource specialist.
“That would be at the board’s discretion,” Kelly said
While Barnett said he would not speculate on the motivation behind the allegations, he and Shults did argue during the March 19 board meeting.
Shults lobbied vehemently to replace Barnett as the designated administrator of the township’s BS&A accounting software. Shults, along with Steele, uses the software for general ledger and accounts receivable/payable, respectively.
Barnett said he and other department heads use the software for reviewing the general ledger. As part of his role as supervisor, Barnett said he also uses the software to review documents like time sheets, payroll and expenditures.
Shults wanted someone else at township hall designated as the new administrator.
Barnett opposed the move, saying he was the township’s top elected official and, if there were any issues or disagreements, it was his role to step in and try to resolve those issues.
The board did not support Shults’s request to appoint a new software administrator.
Shults also was the lone board member to oppose giving Barnett a pay raise in January.
“I’m sorry that you had to go through that. And I’m also glad that you’re bringing it out notoriously and out in the open and for transparency in handling it like we would in any other complaint for the record and for anybody else that wants to read it,” Steele said.
“I was completely caught off guard and surprised by this allegation,” Barnett said. “It’s been weighing on me, the frustration of it all.
“I love my job. I’m so blessed to have a job I love,” Barnett said at the end of the meeting. “I’m going to be here, hopefully, for a long time.”
Statement from Supervisor Chris Barnett, Aug. 2, 2018
It is with great disappointment and sadness that I have asked for this matter to be added to the Agenda. Last week, I was requested by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office to give a statement regarding allegations made against me by the Township Clerk, Penny Shults. As I understand the allegations, in the course of a staff meeting on March 20, 2018 Ms. Shults has alleged that I assaulted her by bumping the back of her chair. As a result of this report, last Friday, March 30, 2018 I voluntarily agreed to be interviewed by the Sheriff’s Department. I have brought this matter to your attention so that you can hear directly from me at the first opportunity possible.
The allegations are false, frivolous, and possibly intended for a malicious purpose. However, I believe the Board and public should be fully aware of the allegations and I have an obligation to treat this like any other personnel matter. Therefore, I have reported these allegations to the Township’s Human Resource Department and Township Attorney. So as to not interfere with the Sheriff’s Investigation, upon its completion the Board may wish to investigate further. Once the report is completed I will provide a copy to all Board members.
I am deeply concerned the allegations are intended for a specific purpose and I will not allow anything to influence my work for the Township or its residents. If necessary, after the police investigation, I encourage the Board to investigate the statements made against me. I understand this may involve the unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer’s dollars as well as my time and the time of the Township witnesses, but I believe a full resolution requires a determination of the truth. I will not speculate on the motivation for the allegations, other than to say they are false and I will not be intimidated by false and malicious accusations.