The village ‘engaged in no wrongdoing’, attorney says
By Jim Newell
The war of words between the Village of Lake Orion and Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett continues to escalate, with the village’s attorney now saying that the village did nothing wrong and will not apologize for its attempt to remove Barnett from the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors.
There also appears to be some answers about from whom the complaints originated that led the village to schedule a public hearing to remove Barnett from the DDA board (see previous articles in the June 23 and June 30 issues of The Lake Orion Review.).
Barnett, who has volunteered on the DDA board since 2012, had been accused of having a conflict of interest, holding incompatible public offices and that he conducted himself with a conflict with the discharge of your two official duties for requests he made during an April 13 DDA board meeting.
“During the April 13, 2021 meeting, Mr. Barnett requested and attempted to persuade his fellow Board members to pay money to the Township to fund the Fire Department, which is already funded through a Village millage,” wrote village attorney Mary M. Kucharek of Beier Howlett, P.C. law firm in a July 2 letter to township attorney Dan Kelly of The Kelly Firm.
“The purpose of the DDA is to enhance the economic potential and preserve the historical nature of the Village of Lake Orion’s Downtown District. It is not the purpose of the DDA to allocate resources towards the Township’s infrastructure,” Kucharek wrote.
It now appears that, in part, proceedings to remove Barnett from the DDA board were based on a citizen’s letter included in the May 11 DDA board packet, and from comments from DDA board members themselves.
“Citizens made negative comments regarding Mr. Barnett’s conduct during and after the April 13, 2021 meeting to the DDA Board Chair and the Village Manager and therefore, officials of the Village of Lake Orion brought Mr. Barnett’s conduct to our attention and requested that action be taken to determine if he should be removed from the Board,” Kucharek wrote.
During the DDA board meeting on April 13, some board members said they felt “bullied” and “intimidated” by Barnett and Orion Township Trustee Brian Birney when the two requested the DDA return all or some of the anticipated $94,000 the DDA expects to collect from the fire millage this fiscal year to the Orion Township Fire Department.
“The Village believes that based upon the relevant statutes, the DDA Bylaws, and the Village of Lake Orion ordinances, Mr. Barnett’s conduct evidenced a conflict of interest under those sources of law, and Mr. Barnett acted contrary to his fiduciary obligations to the DDA when he attempted to persuade the DDA Board to fund the Township’s Fire Department. The Village believes he violated his oath of office,” Kucharek wrote.
Barnett was notified via a May 24 letter from Kucharek that he faced a June 29 public hearing to possibly remove him from the DDA board, but was then notified via a June 21 letter that the village had canceled the hearing.
Kelly responded, on Barnett’s behalf, to the cancelation of the public hearing in a letter dated June 25.
“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.”
“This office is writing in response to the false and frivolous allegations raised against our client, the Village of Lake Orion, in your June 25, 2021 letter,” Kucharek wrote on behalf of the Village of Lake Orion in a letter to township attorney Dan Kelly dated July 2.
Barnett has said that the village has made accusations against him and that by canceling the hearing, it has deprived him of the right to clear his name, present information about the
“I’m expecting at some point to get a full retraction and an apology and find out who started this. I believe that everyone, including me, has the right to face your accuser. I want the right to set the record straight,” Barnett said. “I’m going to protect my name. You can’t unring the bell. They’ve tarnished my reputation.”
The village, however, disagrees and says that Barnett has brought more attention to the situation by taking his case to social media.
“Mr. Barnett states he was defamed by a small public notice regarding the hearing to remove him for cause which is required under the OMA. It was Mr. Barnett himself who decided to disseminate the notice on Facebook inviting members of the public to observe the hearing,” Kucharek wrote. “If anyone is responsible for broadcasting the information and sensationalizing this issue to the public at large, it is Mr. Barnett himself.”
The village also currently does not have plans to issue a retraction or apology to Barnett.
“The Village of Lake Orion and its officials have no intention of issuing an apology as they engaged in no wrongdoing. Rather, the Village simply followed the dictates of the law in addressing this issue which is their duty,” Kucharek wrote.