Barnett demands retraction, public apology, identity of accuser
By Jim Newell
The Village of Lake Orion is no longer trying to remove Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett from the Lake Orion Downtown Development Board of Directors.
However, Barnett and township attorney Dan Kelly say Barnett wants a hearing to set the record straight.
“It’s against our objections that they’re canceling this hearing,” Barnett said. “I’m going to be pushing to get information out there. The reason they canceled the hearing is that they’re afraid to be on the record and answer my questions. Honestly, I still want my hearing.”
Barnett has also demanded a retraction of the complaints against, a public apology and for the village to release the identity of the person who initiated the complaint.
“I’m expecting at some point to get a full retraction and an apology and find out who started this,” Barnett said. “I believe that everyone, including me, has the right to face your accuser. I want the right to set the record straight.”
Barnett said he wants to know who started this whole, thing: who filed the complaint and who directed the attorney and village manager to start working on this whole situation.
“Did they have the authority to spend taxpayer dollars?” Barnett said. “My fight is with whoever put this whole shenanigan together.
“It’s libel and slander and there’s a good chance I’ll do something more about this and pursue something legally,” Barnett said. “I’m going to protect my name. You can’t unwring the bell. They’ve tarnished my reputation.”
Barnett was notified on June 23 in a letter from Mary M. Kucharek of Beier Howlett law firm, dated June 21, 2021, that the hearing against him had been canceled.
“As you know, I represent the Village of Lake Orion and represent the Village Manager in this regard. As you are aware, an allegation has been brought against you to ask the Village Council to hold a public hearing to determine whether you should be removed from the DDA for cause. Village Manager (K. Joseph) Young has been contacted by many members of the public, and together we have determined that it is in the best interest of the Village of Lake Orion, the DDA of Lake Orion and the Township of Lake Orion to, at this time, dismiss the request for a public hearing. Therefore, the public hearing that was to be held on Tuesday, June 30, 2021 (sic) is hereby canceled.” (The meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, June 29.)
In a response from township attorney Daniel J. Kelly of the Kelly Firm, dated June 25, Kelly writes that in the cancelation of the public hearing, Kucharek references no other official action or legal authority in support of canceling the hearing. The village council never voted to cancel the hearing.
“While not surprising, the Village’s dismissal of the Public Hearing is one more cowardly action meant to defame and malign Supervisor Barnett,” Kelly wrote. “Without providing him an opportunity to be heard, you have wasted Village resources and defamed a Township Supervisor and DDA Board Member for no justifiable reason.”
Barnett, who has sat on the DDA board for almost nine years, had been accused of conflict of interest, holding incompatible public offices and that he conducted himself “with a conflict with the discharge of your two official duties.”
The complaint, dated May 24, 2021, was signed by village Manager K. Joseph Young and Kucharek.
The complaint stems from the April 13 DDA board meeting when Barnett and Orion Township Trustee Brian Birney requested that the DDA board refund all, or some, of the anticipated $94,000 the DDA will collect this fiscal year from the Orion Township Fire Millage.
They pointed out that the DDA currently returns money it collects from the village’s police millage back to the Lake Orion Police Department, approximately $90,000 per year.
Barnett did say at that meeting that he was “biased” and the DDA board never voted on the issue, so Barnett did not cast a vote, but merely made a strong request.
“If I did something wrong, they should investigate me. But I did nothing wrong. You don’t cancel a hearing if something is wrong,” Barnett said. “They tried to punish me for being a good board member. The village has been using the DDA as their piggy bank for years and it’s wrong. They felt nervous because I was asking questions about the (DDA budget).”
Barnett was adamant that whoever started the complaint should come forward.
“The village council needs to know that there is someone on the council doing this out of their own ego. It’s not a DDA problem; it’s a village council problem,” Barnett said. “It’s a chicken move by the village council, the village manager, the council president and the (village) attorney.”
The Lake Orion Review asked Village Council President Ken Van Portfliet where the council goes from here and if this incident has damaged the village’s relationship with the township.
“The village council needs to determine its direction and there can be strength gained by jointly working through difficult issues,” Van Portfliet said. “All options to resolve this issue, to work together, will be considered.”
When asked, Van Portfliet said he was willing to work with the township to get past this issue.
“Absolutely. I hope too,” he said.
Kucharek’s letter goes on to say, “It is believed that we can work together to find common ground and all work towards serving the citizens of the Village and the interests of the DDA. We look forward to sitting down together to find solutions and a positive resolution to these issues.”
Van Portfliet agreed that a sit-down meeting between the two sides could help.
“Which would be in the best interest of everybody. That’s really what should take place,” he said.