MONROE - Michigan State Police are investigating a complaint by a Monroe city councilman that four council colleagues conducted city business during an unauthorized meeting.
Additionally, the councilman who filed the complaint, Linda Compora, said she believes the four councilmen likely conspired in advance, along with Mayor C.D. "Al" Cappuccilli, to terminate City Manager Debbie Manns at Monday's council meeting without notifying other councilmen.
At least one of the councilmen named in the case said Ms. Compora's complaint has no merit.
Ms. Compora said a meeting among William Burkett, John Martin, Ed Paisley, and Brian Beneteau took place just prior to the Jan. 17 council meeting in the council lounge, with the door closed.
She said Ms. Manns first noticed the gathering and knocked on the door. Ms. Compora said she then saw the meeting as well.
"It was very suspicious," she said. "There was a quorum."
According to state law, official business and decisions can't be made by a governing body in a meeting that is not advertised and open to the public. Certain actions can be taken by a governing body in a closed session, but those sessions usually are sandwiched between the beginning and end of an open meeting, said Detective Sgt. Dave Meyer, of the state police's Monroe post, who is handling the investigation.
Sergeant Meyer said the law is open to interpretation and has a number of gray areas.
"[Basically,] there is no violation unless a decision is made," he said.
The night of the alleged violation, Mr. Cappuccilli had called in sick.
Mr. Beneteau said he and the other three councilmen arrived early and met in the lounge to discuss who should be chosen to run the meeting in the mayor's place.
"There wasn't a meeting. We were simply socializing," he said. "The city clerk told me he wanted Bill Burkett to be mayor pro-tem because he had the most experience. We talked about what we would do without the mayor."
Mr. Beneteau said he did ask Mr. Burkett, who would raise consent agenda motions, a task normally given to Mr. Burkett, not to serve that night as acting mayor.
Ms. Compora said Mr. Beneteau later told her Mr. Burkett briefed the group on meeting procedures.
"I felt that was city business," she said.
Ms. Compora has been feuding openly with Mr. Cappuccilli and the four councilmen named in the complaint since they were sworn in last month.
Mr. Cappuccilli defeated former Mayor John Iacoangeli, whom Ms. Compora supports, by 14 votes in the Nov. 8 election. Mr. Iacoangeli and Mr. Cappuccilli have been bitter rivals for years.
Mr. Beneteau, Mr. Martin, Mr. Burkett, and Mr. Paisley ran on a joint, pro-Cappuccilli ticket, further fueling the rivalry.
Mr. Cappuccilli said prior to his election that he wanted to terminate Ms. Manns, who was hired during Mr. Iacoangeli's term.
At Monday's meeting, Mr. Burkett introduced a motion to terminate Ms. Manns, an issue that was not on the agenda and surprised most people in attendance.
Mr. Cappuccilli and his four allies voted in favor of the motion, and Ms. Manns was removed immediately from council chambers by police Chief John Michrina, who was named acting city manager.
Ms. Compora and Councilman Dorothy Edwards, who voted against the decision, were upset they were not notified of the impending measure.
They believe the group conspired in advance against Ms. Manns.
"What do they know about Debbie Manns?" Ms. Edwards asked. "They've been on council 30 seconds. They had to discuss it in some way."
Mr. Beneteau and Mr. Cappuccilli said there was no previous discussion between them and the others about terminating Ms. Manns.
Mr. Beneteau said Ms. Manns' name was not mentioned at the Jan. 17 gathering that is the focus of the complaint.
Sergeant Meyer said he did not know when he would complete his investigation.
If found guilty of the misdemeanor charge, the councilmen could face $1,000 fines, the sergeant said.
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