YELLOW CREEK - Tempers flared at a Yellow Creek trustees meeting Tuesday night between a township resident and recently-appointed trustee Glenn McKenzie over how and where township services should be provided.
The disagreement centered on the actions of roads foreman Gary Mitchell, who went to Yellow Creek Presbyterian Church the morning of Dec. 7 to lend assistance to funeral attendees, who were contending with icy conditions in the parking lot.
While several township residents turned out for the meeting, it was Tom DeJane who voiced strong opposition to Mitchell's actions. The basis of DeJane's argument was that Mitchell had strayed outside of Yellow Creek Township onto the private property of a church that lies over a mile inside the border of Madison Township.
"I want us to work on what we're supposed to work on," DeJane declared, suggesting that Mitchell was assisting churchgoers rather than doing his job on Yellow Creek roads. McKenzie countered that township roads had been cleared at the time, with no complaints of anyone being stuck.
According to McKenzie, Mitchell was only fulfilling a mandate to public service. "When I came in here, I told these people, 'Your main job is to take care of what the people need.' That was the way I worked here for 18 years," he said, referring to his previous work with the township road department.
DeJane replied by asking McKenzie if during that time he had ever gone into Liverpool Township with his plow truck to help people out there. McKenzie said no, and reasoned that the situation was different with the church since it is a non-profit enterprise and not the property of another township or a business.
DeJane kept emphasizing that the church pays someone to take care of its parking lot and Mitchell shouldn't have been there with township equipment and materials. McKenzie continued to counter that, at that moment, the people attempting to hold a funeral had ice to contend with and Mitchell was in a position to help.
As McKenzie expounded on his idea of "helping people" that occasionally strays outside the lines of township property, trustee Kenny Biacco mentioned the effort he had spearheaded, along with trustees Larry Brewer and the late David Boyd, to fix some residents' driveways that had been washed out or badly damaged in the flooding rains of this past July. "I understand where you're coming from," Biacco said. "I tried to help some people out, and I got crucified for it."
Biacco later stated the harsh complaints came not from other township residents, but from Mitchell and road worker Randy Matthias while they were carrying out the work, suggesting the presence of a double-standard.
Brewer brought up a similar situation involving an elderly township resident who needed access to her property restored. "We went in there to help this lady in an emergency situation," but said he was later "thrown under the bus" by Mitchell, who told the woman that Brewer had been against helping her. This led to a brief argument between Mitchell and Brewer on the matter.
DeJane also worried about Mitchell having exposed Yellow Creek Township to the risk of liability by working in the church parking lot rather than on municipal property and roads. If a car had been damaged or a person injured, DeJane said, the township might have been sued.
Biacco and Brewer agreed with DeJane, saying the trustees weren't aware of Mitchell's actions that day until they began receiving phone calls from witnesses. Biacco, a former county sheriff's deputy, told McKenzie he's familiar with the concept of mutual aid provided to other departments and approves of it. "But the supervisors have to know about it," he added, insisting that trustees needed to be contacted first before such action is taken.
McKenzie pledged to have a better system of communication set up with Mitchell and Matthias. "We're just having a little problem with getting things worked out, and we will, I'm telling you," McKenzie said. In the meantime, Biacco said he would take these concerns to township solicitor Andy Beech for a legal opinion on how such matters should be handled.
In other business:
* Biacco announced that the township's fire extinguisher drive is complete, with 12 sold to Yellow Creek residents.
* Since the next trustees meeting would fall on Christmas Eve, trustees approved having it rescheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 19.