TRAVERSE CITY — A contentious appointment to the Traverse Area District Library Board was made more so by the fact that the 4-3 vote was tipped in favor of approval by the appointee’s husband.
Grand Traverse County Commissioner Tom Mair voted to appoint his wife, Susan Odgers, to the TADL Board for a four-year term ending Dec. 31, 2022. Stephanie Mathewson was appointed in the same motion for the remainder of a four-year term ending Dec. 31, 2021.
The TADL Board consists of seven members — five appointed by the county Commission and two by the Traverse City Commission.
City residents also are county residents, county Commissioner Sonny Wheelock Jr. noted.
There are six libraries within TADL, but only three — the Traverse City, East Bay and Kingsley branches — are under the control of the TADL Board. The Fife Lake, Interlochen and Peninsula libraries each has its own elected board and sets its own policies, according to TADL’s website.
Objections were raised by an audience member — Jason Gillman, a former county commissioner and current TADL Board member — after Mair cast a “yes” vote during a roll call vote.
There is no statute or other rule prohibiting Mair’s vote, county Deputy Civil Counsel Kit Tholen said. Tholen addressed two issues related to Mair’s vote: incompatibility of office and conflict of interest.
There is no incompatibility of office because Mair won’t be a commissioner during Odgers’ term, Tholen said. Mair lost his bid for re-election in November. He will be replaced by Bryce Hundley.
Tholen said the county Board of Commissioners’ rules do not specifically address the issue, but instead reference Robert’s Rules of Order — a manual of parliamentary procedure widely used in the U.S.
“Robert’s Rules says, ‘A member should not vote if he or she has a direct personal interest which is not common to other members,’” Tholen said. “It does continue to say that no member can be told to not vote and there is no recourse if a member chooses to vote. If he does have a direct personal interest, Robert’s Rules does say that he should refrain, however, he cannot be prohibited.”
He said the county’s code of ethics states that county officials “must avoid all situations where prejudice, bias or opportunity for personal gain could influence their decision. Even the appearance of improper conduct should be avoided.”
Once confirmed that it was Mair’s decision whether to vote, Mair said, “I already voted.”
Commissioner Bob Johnson contested the appointment of Odgers to the TADL Board because it would give Traverse City “too much” representation.
“Susan is more than qualified to be on that board,” Johnson said. “It’s not that they’re not qualified, I just really, philosophically, feel like that’s too much representation for the city for a countywide board.”
Mair said he does “take it personally” that Johnson was objecting.
“This decision had already been made and I think there’s other people out in the public somewhere that started this — I don’t know if Bob started it,” Mair said. “I can’t help but feel personally about this, whether that’s the full intention or not.
“But there is some intention, and I read the rule and the rule was given to you the day you sat there and made your decision and now you’re interpreting it differently for whatever purpose,” he continued.
Johnson served on an ad hoc committee with Commissioners Carol Crawford and Cheryl Gore Follette to interview seven applicants for two spots on the TADL Board. The three recommended the full board appoint Odgers and Mathewson.
Both Crawford and Gore Follette said they stood by the recommendations and voted to approve the appointments.
“Lots of people come and say, ‘You didn’t follow the process,’” said Crawford, the chairperson. “For four years, people have been coming up here saying, ‘You didn’t follow the process.’ We did. We sat here and I appointed people (to the ad hoc committee) … and everybody showed up for these interviews.”
Gillman, David Bieganowski and Andy Marek echoed Johnson’s concerns during a public comment period on the topic allowed by Crawford. They asked that the full board review the applicants and then make a decision.
Gillman and Marek are on the TADL Board. Marek’s term ends this year and he will be replaced by Odgers.
“I don’t always get what I want, but one thing I can ask for is our government to be responsive and responsible when fulfilling its duties,” Gillman said.
Commissioners Crawford, Gore Follette, Mair and Sonny Wheelock Jr. voted “yes.” Commissioners Johnson, Dr. Dan Lathrop and Ron Clous voted “no.”