HOWELL – A resident has called the integrity of the Howell Township Council into question and seconded another resident’s previous call for an investigation into how a former councilman was able to ask specific questions about the 2021 municipal budget before the document had been released to the public.
Resident Sheri Reavis has been a resident of Howell for 17 years, but the council’s April 27 meeting marked her first participation. She said she recently decided to pay more attention to local government.
During her comments, Reavis referred to the governing body’s April 13 meeting when council members introduced the 2021 municipal budget.
That night, Reavis noted, Rob Nicasto, a former councilman who currently serves on the Howell Planning Board, asked specific questions about the budget before it had been made public.
Nicastro mentioned items related to the Howell Police Department and the Howell Office of Emergency Management (OEM), including a proposed shift from a part-time OEM director to a full-time OEM director with a $50,000 salary.
The budget that was introduced by the council shows salaries and wages for emergency management increasing from $8,250 in 2020 to $54,250 in 2021.
Reavis said Councilwoman Pamela Richmond reported that issues regarding certain municipal hires had been discussed during a March 29 budget meeting.
Regarding the March 29 budget meeting she reviewed, Reavis said, “The police chief offered his budget for 2021 … he stated that three members of the police force were retiring and those positions had already been filled. And he was requesting five new positions, two in information technology and three for patrol.
“The conversation later moved to the OEM coordinator’s position and it was discussed … to move from a stipend to a full-time position for the OEM coordinator and that a salary ordinance would need to be created, but there was no salary amount mentioned in that meeting at all,” Reavis said.
She said it was interesting how “alarmingly accurate” Nicastro’s statements were prior to the budget’s introduction. She asked how Nicastro knew the full-time OEM coordinator’s position would have a $50,000 salary when that had not been previously disclosed.
“I have only reviewed the (March 29 and April 13) meetings and I am hoping there is another public forum in which this information was shared that I am not aware of.
“If you cannot provide this to me, I am left to question the integrity of the process. How can I and other members of the community trust the council and administration if the process is being disregarded and circumvented?” Reavis asked the council members.
She said the matter of how Nicastro came to have certain information regarding the budget should be investigated. That same request had been made by another resident on April 13.
Township Attorney Joe Clark responded, saying, “Any investigation I do is private, so I am not going to answer the question. I have heard the requests from the citizens and whatever I need to do I will do.”
Reavis asked if residents would be informed of the results of an investigation if Clark undertakes one.
“I will have to see where the investigation leads. Some of this is confidential, some of it is not. I have not even begun an investigation yet. I heard the people want one. As you can imagine, I have a million things on my plate in addition to this.
“I will begin an investigation. I will discuss with the Township Council the best direction for it to go in. If we need to appoint outside counsel independently to investigate, we will do that. These things tend to take time and be costly. I will look to see what the best options are,” the attorney said.
“I understand there is a lot going on, but what we are talking about is the integrity of the council and the administration. If as a group you cannot be trusted to follow the procedures around the budget, what are the other issues you can’t be trusted to do?” Reavis asked.
Clark said he would provide updates on the issue.
“I am glad the meetings are recorded because I had the opportunity to review them … looking for that information trying to prove myself wrong,” Reavis said.