By Jessica Mathews /

As the trial of the Genoa Township clerk charged with an election law violation approaches later this week, one of her few remaining duties has been modified by the board.

Clerk Polly Skolarus was charged with a single, misdemeanor charge of Election Law - Failure to Perform Duty after a Michigan State Police investigation involving the handling of ballots. While the case is pending, Skolarus is not to be involved in the administration of elections per the state.

There have been recurring issues raised at the board table over the past year and half but more recently with minutes and agenda items. At Monday night’s meeting, the board voted to hire a recording secretary to draft meeting minutes in conjunction with the Clerk. Skolarus was the single vote opposed.

Skolarus is responsible for the minutes, which have been routinely removed from the consent agenda for months by board members for corrections and clarifications. Many have stated on multiple occasions that the minutes don’t accurately reflect what transpires at meetings and should be more succinct while other important information is often left out. The township attorney clarified that minutes are not supposed to be “word for word” or reflect conversations.

All minutes are available on the township website.

Skolarus told the board she’s been doing the minutes for 36 years and acknowledged that there have been some issues in the last year and a half. She suggested having Supervisor Bill Rogers review the minutes once completed and then sign-off in agreement. Rogers stated the issue with that was he has only once so far this year been in a position to be able to sign them and won’t sign something he knows is incorrect.

Skolarus has served as the township's clerk since 1986 and was re-elected to a four-year term in November of 2020. She told the board last night she felt “a little sad about this whole thing” and said quite few years ago, she used to do the general ledger, accounts payable, payroll, special assessment districts and other duties. Skolarus asserted that all of that was taken from her in the past five years and “now you’re going to take the minutes from me”.

Rogers responded the board is not taking the minutes away and stressed that they would be done in conjunction with the recording secretary. It was clarified that the item has been talked about on and off for quite some time and a recording secretary could actually be beneficial. Since the Clerk is active during meetings and a voting member of the board, it was stated the change would require less note taking and she could participate more.

Separately, the board approved a new agenda management policy to “create consistency for processes associated with agenda placement and meeting packet preparation”.

Questions have been raised about items from the Clerk or her office that have been placed on the agenda or are added late with incomplete or inaccurate information.

One item from Skolarus on behalf of the County Clerk’s Office and the state to purchase election equipment and a related maintenance agreement was finally approved last night after appearing on the agenda five times. It was repeatedly discussed and tabled over the past couple of months because the board could not get answers to specific questions and costs over multiple meetings, which some felt should have been a simple business item.

At the March 7th meeting, Skolarus ultimately withdrew a motion she made to appoint Trustee Terry Croft to the township Election Commission after the board raised concerns about her authority to do so and the legality with the pending court case. Further it was stated Ledford would likely need to agree to resign from that body and do so before anyone could be appointed.

Skolarus had sought to replace Trustee Jean Ledford with Croft. Ledford was the first to raise concerns about the Clerk’s handling of duties and allegations of violations, abuse of office, and election issues.

Ledford put forth an unexpected motion last March to withhold a pay increase for Skolarus in the 2021 budget and deny all pay increases for the remainder of her term or the date of her resignation, whichever occurs first. Ledford told the board her motion was made on the grounds of the clerk’s “irresponsible behavior, abuse of office, malfeasance and putting the integrity of the township at risk”.

At the time, Skolarus responded to Ledford’s allegations by telling the board that she has worked hard for the township for many years and prides herself on the elections that have been run with “honesty and integrity”.

The MSP investigation eventually resulted and the election violation charge was authorized last March by the Livingston County Prosecutor’s Office.

At the April 4th meeting, Skolarus alleged Township Manager Mike Archinal had people spying on her and referenced some incidents he reported to the state.

Archinal said unless the board wanted him to, he refused to respond. He stated “the clerk has notified us that she is suing the township and I would respectfully suggest that the board proceed with extreme caution with anything along these lines”.

Archinal stressed that his “fiduciary responsibly is to protect the township”. He said if the board doesn’t feel he’s doing that, then they could hold a closed session to discuss the manager’s performance but until such time, his job is to protect the township and he believes that is what he’s doing to the best of his ability.

The Clerk’s salary remains frozen by a vote of the board, in part pending the outcome of the criminal case.

As for the MSP investigation, a report was obtained by WHMI through a Freedom of Information Act request. It determined that Skolarus was responsible for storing excess absentee ballots used in the November 2020 election in canvas bags that were unapproved by the State Bureau of Elections. The report said that when Skolarus brought the bags to a subsequent meeting of the Livingston County Board of Canvassers, it was immediately recognized that they were not in legal compliance.

While none of the witnesses interviewed for the report could say definitively who provided the bags, Hamburg Township Deputy Clerk Mary Kuzner stated that Skolarus exclaimed “it’s totally all my fault, I told them to use them” while in the hallway outside the canvassers meeting.

Skolarus has pleaded not guilty and the case is set for jury trial this Friday in 53rd District Court.

If convicted on the misdemeanor charge, Skolarus would face a maximum punishment of 90 days in jail and/or $500 fine.