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Ahee

Tab paid by mystery donor


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February 27, 2014
GROSSE POINTE SHORES — The Grosse Pointe News filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for a copy of surveillance video showing the person who anonymously dropped off $410 cash at city hall last week to cover the cost of Councilman Dan Schulte's arrest last year for domestic violence.


Schulte refused to pay the bill, due under the municipal cost recovery ordinance.

Nonpayment may have put Schulte at risk of being in default to the city and, under terms of the Grosse Pointe Shores charter, disqualified to hold municipal elected office.

"I wouldn't pay 50 cents to stay on the council," said Schulte, learning of the payment Wednesday morning, Feb. 19.

The alleged default became public the previous night at the monthly council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 18.

The next day, someone paid it.

"I got a yellow envelope and passed it to (the finance director)," said Manager Mark Wollenweber. "It had cash for his $410 fine. I don't know if this puts it to bed, but at least the fine is paid."

"I think (giving) anonymous money to an elected official requires investigation," said Brian Geraghty, a former Shores councilman and member of the commission that wrote the city charter.

Geraghty broached Schulte's unpaid bill at the council meeting.

"Mr. Schulte incurred this debt and is in default," Geraghty said at the meeting.

He added, "If Mr. Schulte is unwilling to pay this debt, he should be required to explain this default in an open forum. After that hearing, the council should apply the charter to vacate his seat on the council, as he had been in default to the city for some time."

Section 3.4(c) of the charter reads:

"No person shall be eligible for membership on the council who is in default to the city. The holding of office by any member who is in default shall create a vacancy unless such default shall be eliminated within 30 days after written notice thereof has been served."

A portion of Cost Recovery Ordinance No. 254 reads:

"The cost of an emergency response shall be a charge against the person liable for such expense. The charge shall constitute a debt of that person and is collectable by the city for incurring those costs in the same manner as any other debt."

Payment is required within 45 days of being billed, according to the ordinance. An appeal is allowed within 30 days of notice, which Schulte didn't seek.

Neither did he respond to Geraghty at the council meeting.

Arrest

Schulte's arrest on Aug. 7, 2013, for domestic violence was his second within three months, although no charges resulted from the first one.

On Sept. 11, he pleaded "no contest" to City of Grosse Pointe Municipal Judge Russell Ethridge — the Shores judge recused himself — to misdemeanor domestic violence against his wife. He also pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor attempted obstruction of police rather than obstruction, a felony.

Terms of the plea included dropping a charge of interfering with his wife's effort to file a police report, a one-year felony.

Dunned

On Oct. 8, 2013, Shores Public Safety Director John Schulte — no relation to the councilman — mailed Councilman Schulte a letter regarding $410.28 costs due from the Aug. 7 arrest.

"When you were advised by the arresting officers that you would be detained until your arraignment, you stated that you felt ill and wanted to be taken to the hospital," the chief wrote the councilman. "Shores paramedics conveyed you to Beaumont-Grosse Pointe [that's wrong, they took him to St. John Hospital] by ambulance and our officers were required to remain with you because of your arrest status. This detention process took our ambulance and paramedics out of service for hours, and required (six hours of) off-duty overtime personnel to be assigned to you during your hospital evaluation."

From here on, all references to Schulte are to the councilman, not the public safety director.

Won't pay

Schulte responded in writing two months later to Wollenweber, in the dual role of cost recovery hearing officer.

Schulte's letter, logged by Wollenweber on Dec. 10, 2013, cited the mistaken hospital reference among grounds for not paying.

"The letter is inaccurate, which makes me wonder what other mistakes may have been made," wrote Schulte.

Schulte said he was already paying fines and court costs.

"It was apparent that the court considered the thousands of dollars in fines that were already assessed to be sufficient," he wrote. "Considering the above, it seems reasonable to regard the issue as res judicata."

Actually, Ethridge did no such thing.

During the sentencing hearing, Shores Lt. Detective Scott Rohr asked Ethridge to make Schulte pay the cost of his arrest.

Ethridge refused.

"That's a civil matter," he said. "They can file a claim and send him a bill for emergency response. That's a Grosse Pointe Shores issue."

Waived

Wollenweber reportedly consulted Shores municipal attorney Brian Renaud before yielding to Schulte in writing Feb. 10.

"The cost of collecting would outweigh the $410.28 bill," Wollenweber wrote. "It is my opinion that as a public officer of the city, you should adhere to the letter of the ordinance, but based upon the totality of the circumstances and the city's expectation that an incident of this character will never occur again, the fine will be waived."

Renaud explained, "The cost recovery ordinance says the hearing officer may waive on the one hand and, on the other, if no written request for an appeal is received within the specified time, the city may proceed by circuit court. Neither of those is mandatory in character."

Yet, the ordinance reads "shall," Geraghty countered.

The ordinance gives the hearing officer discretion in matters under appeal: "If the hearing officer determined that the appellant is not properly responsible for any or all of the amount charged, the hearing officer may waive all or part of such a charge against the appellant."

"If we think it's collectible, we do it," Wollenweber said. "In this case, everyone felt strongly that, with the extra expense involved, we did what was in the ordinance."

Unfair

When Schulte was arrested six months ago, he blamed the police.

"I think a lot of this is political because, apparently, the police don't like me," he said at the time.

This time, he accuses political opponents.

"It's convoluted," Schulte said the day after the council meeting. "It's not just isolated stuff going on."

He added, "It's obvious people want to force me off the council. I went on this council with the cleanest intentions to try and resolve things that were bothering me with the way this city is run. I've kind of come to the conclusion that is probably never going to be achieved."


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