Howell City Council Re-Appoints Spaulding To TIFA Board
March 9, 2021
By Jessica Mathews & Jon King / News@whmi.com
The Howell City Council has rescinded a controversial vote to remove a longstanding member from a committee.
At a virtual meeting held Monday night, members apologized for what many referred to as a mistake in voting to remove Robert Spaulding from the TIFA or Tax Increment Financing Authority at the February 22nd meeting. He’s served on TIFA for 20 years and there’s been significant community backlash since the original 6-1 vote that was initiated by Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Manor. At the time, Manor noted that Spaulding currently serves on the Planning Commission and said while he exercised his free speech rights to oppose the City’s last Headlee Override request, which voters rejected, he didn’t think it was good to have him on one of the City commissions.
Last night, Manor said he did not adequately anticipate the reaction from his statement and explained his thinking, saying he in no way intended to deny Spaulding’s right to free speech. He commented that he just doesn’t believe Council should provide the platform for members of boards or commission to speak against goals and policies set by Council. However, he used the meeting to announce his resignation as Mayor Pro-Tem, saying he felt it was time to step aside from that particular role. However, Manor will retain his Council seat.
Councilman Randy Greene admitted it was the worst vote he’s ever made on Council and he immediately regretted it. Green said he called Spaulding personally to apologize and complimented him, saying he was especially gracious and kind and could have put him to shame but chose not to. He said Spaulding instead referenced their common beliefs and the need for forgiveness and understanding – saying it speaks volumes about him.
Howell Mayor Nick Proctor also used Monday's meeting to announce that he will not be seeking re-election in November – a decision he says was made in part due to recent events. At the Feb. 22nd meeting, Proctor was the lone Council member to support Spaulding’s re-appointment and he felt he bears some blame as he assumed the reason stated for denial were so obviously inappropriate that he promptly moved to a vote without discussion. In hindsight, Proctor said it was a mistake in meeting management and he will not repeat that error.
Regardless, Proctor said it’s unacceptable to have any kind of litmus test for those wishing to serve on boards or commissions and while the vote to deny Spaulding's re-appointment was not politically motivated, it has unfortunately been characterized in that manner and it shouldn’t surprise anyone as it "possibly opened Pandora’s Box," noting that Livingston County Republicans are using it as a fundraising mechanism and in his experience, where one party goes, others will follow. Proctor said City Charter mandates a non-partisan structure of government and he’s “done his darndest” to maintain the spirit of non-partisanship – adding there is now the risk that county political parties will begin endorsing candidates based on their own political litmus test and if elected, those candidates will be expected to carry that ideology into Council chambers. He said that dynamic could result in certain paralysis that won’t benefit anyone – particularly in efforts to move the city forward.
Proctor noted he was fairly reluctant six years ago in 2015 when he was sworn in as mayor - saying those first 8 months were difficult as they had to some significant council dysfunction and polarization. He said one of the many aspects of leadership is knowing when to step aside and let someone else lead – and that time has come for him and he won’t be seeking re-election to a 4th term as mayor. Proctor said it has been an honor and he’s been heavily leaning in this direction for the last few months but the unnecessary turmoil created at that last meeting made it absolutely clear that the time is now. He pledged that his last 8 months will be spent much like his first - restoring any lost confidence in the elected body by managing and reducing polarization and sustaining non-partisanship as mandated by charter.
On a more optimistic note, Proctor said any reputational damage will heal and require time, as well as a concerted effort by everyone to listen to constituents - who will hopefully listen in turn.