Walled Lake Mayor “Fills in Blank” with Council Appointee Robert Robertson

Walled Lake Mayor “Fills in Blank” with Council Appointee Robert Robertson

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 7, 2018)

Walled Lake, MI – Walled Lake Mayor Linda Ackley kept her City Council nominee’s name secret until just before City Council was to vote on replacing the elected official who was voted off by fellow Council members earlier this month. Previous Councilperson Robert Robertson was appointed to fill the vacancy with a 4-1 vote Tuesday.

REMOVAL OF SUSAN HELKE

At the Feb. 1, 2018 City Council meeting, Councilperson Susan Helke was voted out of office by fellow council members with a 5-1 vote.  Helke was accused by Council of violating the Open Meetings Act and harassing two employees in 2016. There were no criminal or civil charges against her.  When asked the reasons for Helke’s removal, Mayor Ackley said there were “too many to list.”

Spinal Column reported on Helke’s removal, listing several charges including civil rights violations, violating employee confidentiality, violating council rules of order, interfering with the City Manager by not going through the City Manager to deal with city administration, and violating the Oath of Office. According to the report, Mayor Ackley said that Helke harassed “young female employees.”

The report also states that Mayor Ackley said “I had hoped things would improve. They didn’t,” in regard to the delay.

Spinal Column also reported that there was no public comment time included in the meeting.

Minutes for the meeting have not been posted online, as the City has not updated the page with minutes since Nov. 2017.

Two employees, plus the City Manager, testified at the Feb. 1, 2018 meeting.

Without the minutes, we have not yet confirmed what was said at that meeting.  However, in Oct. 2017 one of the employees posted on Facebook stating “She verbally attacked me at a meeting and called me many names including a f***ing Twit…..To this day I am still being harassed by this Council Member but not directly.”

She went on to say that candidates Gabriel Costanzo and Dan Lauffer were harassing her. “She now has Gabriel Costanzo and Dan Lauffer harassing me for her. These names may look familiar because Susan Helke has them running for council in November. I have been followed/stalked, unwanted pictures taken of me and nasty rumors being spread around about me. All by 2 grown adults running for council. I’m not looking for sympathy I’m just trying to make people aware. They are full of lies and will do anything for your vote. It’s sad what they have done and continue to do. Please all Walled Lake residents get out and vote November 7th and NOT for Gabe Costanzo or Dan Lauffer.” Costanzo was elected in the 2017 election; Lauffer was not.

Councilperson Costanzo, who was the only official to vote against removing Helke, stated after the meeting “Several laws were alleged to have been violated by the Council member and each of the laws as I understand them, have their own specific recourse of remedy in them in a court of law. There was never a guilty verdict much less a criminal case held in a court of law on any of these alleged charges and in my opinion, the right of due process as outlined in our Constitution was not afforded… In my opinion, I believe that we over stepped our authority while exposing the City of Walled Lake to significant losses from a civil lawsuit,” Costanzo said.

The hearing to remove Helke had originally been scheduled for Jan. 11, but Helke’s attorney asked for more time to review.  The hearing was then scheduled for Jan. 25, but rescheduled due to the Council Chamber exceeding capacity.  The Feb. 1 meeting was held in the Fire Hall and lasted until well after midnight.

Helke had been elected in 2015.  She has not yet returned a request for comment.

A Freedom of Information Act request has been filed to obtain the meeting minutes and supporting documents, and this story will be updated once more information is received.

APPOINTMENT OF ROBERT ROBERTSON

At Tuesday’s meeting Mayor Ackley appointed former Councilperson Robert (Bob) Robertson to the vacant seat.

Robertson lost his bid for re-election in Nov. 2017, coming in fourth in a contest for three seats. Prior to that Robertson served on City Council for eight years.  He has worked as an engineer, is a US Navy Veteran and a volunteer with Eagle Scout, according to his questionnaire with League of Women Voters.

His nomination was kept secret until just before the vote, with Mayor Ackley handing out resolutions with a line where the name would have been.

City Manager Dennis Whitt said that because the appointment is the decision of the Mayor with approval by Council, the law does not require disclosing the name before the meeting. “We’re following the laws, and it [the meeting] is advertised,” Whitt said.  “If it gets out too soon, they [the nominee] get beat up on social media.  You should wait until you’re nominated before you take the beating.”

The City Charter calls for filling vacancies with a Mayoral appointment, but if a nominee were not appointed within 60 days an election would be held.

“I personally think it’s time to have a full board and move forward,” Mayor Ackley said.

City Manager Whitt noted that vacancies had been filled by Mayoral appointment in the past, and that the process is consistent in other communities as well.

City Councilperson Casey Ambroise was absent from the meeting and Councilperson Costanzo was the only dissenting vote to the appointment.  Costanzo requested that the appointment be delayed in favor of either a public application process or an election.

In regards to Tuesday’s appointment by the Mayor, public comment time was held at the meeting, but before the nominee was announced. Several residents were concerned about Helke’s removal and the appointment process.

Resident Ryan Woods said he’d contacted the Clerk’s office because there was no name given on the agenda, and that the Clerk did not know who was to be nominated.  “Being able to talk before even knowing who the person is, is not transparent,” he said.

Councilperson Bennett Lublin agreed with Robertson’s appointment due to his prior experience and his interest in having run for office in 2017.  “We don’t need more elections, we need to move forward,” he said.

He also agreed with the Mayor’s decision not to reveal the name.  “I don’t know that I’d want my name put out there on Facebook before getting the appointment,” Lublin said.

Robertson is expected to be sworn in at the next Council meeting.

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