Lawyering Up: Ontonagon hires legal firm to defend its accounting

Skip Schulz/For the Gazette The Ontonagon Village Housing Commission hired a Marquette law firm at a special meeting on Tuesday.

ONTONAGON — The Village Housing Commission (VHC) hired a law firm with a specialty in certified public accounting during a special meeting Tuesday.

Last week commission members Richard Ernest and Joe Erickson called for this action, citing their concerns of not getting the information, including receipts that they have requested at past meetings.

Ernest said he felt it was important to hire a legal firm from outside the area. Ernest originally wanted a “forensic audit” of the VHC, but after realizing that a forensic audit would be a criminal investigation, he was successful in getting the board to hire Kendrick-Bourdeau out of Marquette.

The hiring will require an expense not listed in the commission’s five-year budget, which drew criticism from not only Erickson but also Village Council member Don Chastain.

“I’ve talked to people from the Soo (Sault Sainte Marie) Housing Commission, and they said you can adjust your budget at any time,” Chastain said.

VHC Board Member Dot Phillips and Erickson stated they had not seen a five-year budget.

Executive Director Sally Jarvey responded that every commission member had received the document.

Phillips, who was critical of media coverage of these meetings, wanted to hold closed meetings, not allowing media to be present. Ernest agreed on the idea of closed meetings.

Jarvey then read the law mandating open meetings for public bodies.

“This is the reason we need to hire an attorney,” Ernest responded. “The board is not getting information and answers that we request.”

“When you were appointed to the board, I gave you what you needed from HUD (Housing and Urban Development),” Jarvey said. “You received everything as to when the commission was established regarding the dos and don’ts.”

VHC President Pam Cooey questioned where the money is going to come from to hire the attorney.

“Unless we know what we are getting an attorney for, why take this money out of our budget?” she asked.

The topic of the village handing over the deed of the property to the commission was addressed by Jarvey and Village Council member Mike Mogen.

Mogen said he wanted to make sure village residents get what “they put into the OVHC.”

Jarvey stated the village has not put any money into the VHC.

“The purpose of the OVHC getting the deed is to provide us the opportunity to get grants through the Rural Assistance Demonstration (RAD). RAD is a program that gives companies and corporations tax benefits for providing materials and services to housing commissions throughout the state of Michigan,” Jarvey explained. “However, the only way to get this RAD money is if the deed of the property is with the Housing Commission.”

The VHC has been working with the Village Council to get the deed transferred for close to a year. Jarvey and OVHC Secretary Sue Lockhart have been working on getting the funds to transfer the heating of the apartments from electricity to natural gas. This would save a considerable amount of money on utility costs.

The VHC is also in need of new roofing.

These projects have been stalled until the deed is transferred. The public that was at the meeting also left wondering if the costs for the new law firm will have an effect on future projects.