St. Clair Township Highway Commissioner Skip Kernan has taken his case for why he should have five employees in the road district to court.
Kernan has filed suit against the township trustees, Township Supervisor Dave Barnes and Township Clerk Brenda Reed.
Kernan has asked that a court order the township board to approve his original budget proposal that would allow for five employees, and for an injunction to restrain the defendants from interfering with day-to-day operations of the road district.
In the spring, trustees adopted a budget with the wages line item high enough to support three full-time employees and one part-time worker, and continually refused to adjust it, even after a special town meeting, where those in attendance overwhelmingly voted in favor of having enough money allocated for five employees.
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In the suit, Kernan also asks that his attorney fees for the lawsuit be paid.
Kernan’s attorney, James Williams, wrote in the lawsuit that the highway commissioner acknowledges the township board of trustees has the authority to adopt a road district budget, but argued it has no authority to “unilaterally amend specific line items of the budget during its deliberations.”
Williams said the board can’t alter specific line items and argued state law says the township board’s powers are only in place “for purposes other than the road and bridge fund.”
Mr. Kernan knew, after consulting with the road district auditor, that there were sufficient funds for five employees, and knew that was part of his obligation and duties to continue to maintain the rights-of-way in a safe manner, including snow plowing, removing trees/obstructions, and anything else that could inhibit the safe travel of the public.
James Williams, attorney for Skip Kernan
Kernan argues the line item for salaries should be $345,200, which would be enough to cover five employees, instead of the $250,000 approved by the board.
“Mr. Kernan knew, after consulting with the road district auditor, that there were sufficient funds for five employees, and knew that was part of his obligation and duties to continue to maintain the rights-of-way in a safe manner, including snow plowing, removing trees/obstructions, and anything else that could inhibit the safe travel of the public,” Williams wrote in the suit.
“Instead it (the board of trustees), unilaterally determined to reduce the line item for salaries, cutting the amount of money available for employees because it felt the number of employees was unnecessary and that the road district did not have adequate funds,” the suit also states. “The board did not amend any other portion of the budget.”
In the suit, Williams wrote if the line item for wages isn’t increased, Kernan will be forced to lay off employees, and “after Dec. 1, this will cause significant public safety issues.”
This past spring, when Kernan ran out of money in his wages line item, the five road district employees had to be laid off until the beginning of the next fiscal year.
Mr. Kernan doesn’t want to live within the rules set forth. He thinks he’s above the board of trustees and he could do whatever he wants.
Dave Barnes, St. Clair Township supervisor
Barnes said Kernan is trying to make this a hardship on the residents of the township.
“Mr. Kernan doesn’t want to live within the rules set forth,” Barnes said. “He thinks he’s above the board of trustees and he could do whatever he wants.”
Barnes says Kernan has spent little money on the road maintenance or construction out of what was in the approved budget for this fiscal year.
“Does he want to fix roads, or does he want to hire his buddies?” Barnes said.
According to budget reports, Kernan also has spent $2,700 on road supplies out of $35,000 budgeted.
“They don’t have the concrete and the workers to do major road improvements,” Barnes said.
Kernan, in a phone interview, reiterated that trustee Greg Hipskind, who had to be named as a defendant in the complaint, has been the only trustee who supported the road district having five employees.
He said road projects are ongoing, but he has yet to receive bills for them.
It’s been a hard seven months. I’ve tried to compromise with the board. In my opinion it’s extremely evident they have other political motivation in mind.
St. Clair Township highway commissioner
Kernan said he doesn’t know how much the case will cost, but hopes the case is resolved before the winter.
Kernan said residents will be upset during the winter if workers need to be laid off, and said blame should be put on the board, but “those residents are going to be mad at me.”
The road commissioner said he was willing to spend less on larger road construction projects, which are put out for bid to be done by outside contractors, in order for his department to have five employees.
He added those workers do pour concrete and perform other street repairs, in addition to snow plowing and clearing of roads and other duties.
He said pouring concrete with less than five people is not possible.
“It’s been a hard seven months. I’ve tried to compromise with the board,” Kernan said. “In my opinion it’s extremely evident they have other political motivation in mind.”