The Bath Charter Township Board of Trustees has come under public scrutiny due to the handling of charges filed against Board Supervisor Marie Howe. During the board meeting on March 20, multiple residents spoke out against what they described as “disrespectful and inappropriate” behavior.
On Feb. 8, the State of Michigan charged Howe with assault and battery. Records from the 65A District Court reveal that the alleged offense occurred Aug. 25, 2022. The reported victim is Deputy Clerk April Dunham.
At the arraignment on Feb. 17, Howe stood mute. Now, the case is undergoing pretrial and will begin jury selection in April. The court has also ordered the prosecution to provide exculpatory video to the defense. Howe’s defense attorney, Stuart Shafer, declined to comment at this time.
The ongoing court proceeding resulted in the board’s decision to hold a special meeting on March 7. At the meeting, Trustee Ryan Fewins-Bliss motioned to enter into a closed session under the Open Meetings Act, with Howe excused from the session. All trustees, with the exception of Trustee Cheryl Kellerman, voted in favor of the closed session.
The two-hour closed session resulted in a sole motion by Fewins-Bliss: Howe’s office in Township Hall would be closed, replaced with a home office set up by Superintendent Karen Hildebrant, and Howe would not be allowed in township buildings other than to attend public meetings. All trustees, with the exception of Howe, voted to approve the motion.
Following these events, members of community Facebook groups expressed outrage from a variety of perspectives. A petition calling for Howe to resign or be removed from the board has garnered 32 signatures. On the other hand, some have criticized the board’s handling of the issue.
An alleged report from one of the two witnesses in the case was posted online, as well as a leaked email between board members in August. In the alleged email, Fewins-Bliss listed eight options for the board to proceed. Although neither of these leaked files is verifiable, they have angered residents, with some discussing a larger conspiracy amongst trustees to oust Howe.
These tensions boiled over at the next Board of Trustees meeting on March 20. During public comment, resident Rick Curtis said that although he hadn’t “taken a side” on the charges against Howe, he felt that the board handled the issue inappropriately. Curtis, who previously served on the board, said he wanted to do what was right for the township, which meant to “wash out” those harming Bath.
Curtis said that he was the individual who posted the email on Facebook, and he accused Fewins-Bliss’ email of violating the Open Meetings Act.
“[The email] was basically a conspiracy to get Marie out of this office,” Curtis said. “There’s no other way to see that. He admits it right in the email … Shame on you guys. Shame on the trustees for not telling him ‘You’re in violation of the Open Meetings Act.’”
Another former trustee, Cindy Cronk, took issue with what she said was a “ridiculous” handling of the board’s March 7 meeting. She said that the board should have privately messaged Howe to ask her to voluntarily stop coming to the office instead of presenting it to her in a public forum, especially since the closed session was “led by the same person who was trying to get [Howe] ousted back in August.”
“That is absolutely disrespectful and inappropriate,” Cronk said. “You have to live with those actions, and they’re gonna bite you right where you sit. Every one of you.”
Fewins-Bliss defended his actions to the critics.
“I appreciate the feedback of the public,” Fewins-Bliss said. “I just will say I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve broken no laws. If you believe otherwise, you should call the police or call a lawyer. I am now, and will remain, on the side of victims of workplace violence either here, at my office or anywhere else.”
Some residents focused their public comments on the board’s responsibility to serve the community. Judith Gardi gave the board handouts with traits she felt they should exhibit, like trustworthiness and respect. Gardi also emphasized the importance of developing a strategic plan.
Nicole Gabriault said that she had witnessed “chaos” on the board and that this disrespect should not be tolerated. She also echoed Gardi’s sentiments, stating that the board must remember its responsibility to the people who elected them.
“It’s disappointing as the people,” Gabriault said. “I think that we should want to be a part of the same community. We are all on the same team, so I would just ask that everybody could put their personal differences aside and act like we’re on the same team…. At the end of the day, I just want a win for Bath.”