Genoa Township’s Linda Rowell and Todd Smith have been awful public officials; voters need to boot them out

Linda Rowell wants to be Genoa Township’s next supervisor. But first, she has to explain to taxpayers in the township why she’s willing to waste hundreds of thousands of their dollars to keep a Christian school out of Genoa.

Likewise Todd Smith. He’s been a trustee on the Genoa Township Board for the past 16 years, and he’s running for re-election this year. In addition to being one of the more despicable public officials I’ve ever encountered, he’s also willing to waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting this Christian school.

Through their actions, Rowell and Smith have been telling voters that they don’t care how much of their money they have to waste. They’ve been slapping Genoa Township taxpayers in the face for the past year, and now, they want to be returned to the board so they can slap them in the face some more.

And now it’s time for the voters to have their say.

So please hear me clearly on this: If you live in Genoa Township, don’t vote for Linda Rowell for supervisor. And don’t vote for Todd Smith for trustee. They are really, really bad at being public officials, and they need to be retired.

In my life as a columnist in Livingston County, I’ve never written anything this harsh regarding a public official. Ever. I have great regard for the men and women who are willing to serve in public office – I even ran for public office myself once – and even when I disagree with people, I always try to show respect.

That said, I’ve never seen public officials who are as bad as this. Linda Rowell and Todd Smith are awful at representing the public interest, and voters need to turn them out. I don’t know them as people, but I’ve seen what they’ve done in office, and as public officials, they’re awful.

There are others on the current Genoa board who are just as bad – especially Supervisor Gary McCririe – and we’ll get to them in a bit. But of the candidates who will be on the ballot this year, Rowell and Smith are the worst of the worst. Please don’t vote for them.

Now, here’s the backstory on all this, and here’s how I ended up having a dog in this fight. It all has to do with Livingston Christian Schools wanting to relocate to a new spot at the Brighton Nazarene Church, which is in Genoa Township.

Livingston Christian Schools is a perfectly wonderful school that started in Howell and then moved to Pinckney a few years ago, finding a home in the old St. Mary’s School in the village. After several years in Pinckney, the families at Livingston Christian said they would prefer to find a location in the Brighton area, since many of them live up that way. So the Livingston Christian people went looking for a new home, and they found one at the Naz.

Last summer, you might recall, Livingston Christian went before the Genoa Township Planning Commission, looking for approval to move into the Naz. The Planning Commission did its due diligence and then some, ordering up traffic studies and other reports, all to make sure that this would be a good fit.

On a 6-1 vote, the Planning Commission recommended approval of Livingston Christian’s move to the Naz. Among other things – and this is a VERY important part of the story – the Planning Commission found that Livingston Christian would have no detrimental impact on the traffic on Brighton Road, where the church is located.

At this point, everybody at Livingston Christian was happy. It looked like their school was going to have its new home at the Naz, and the school would be able to continue to serve its families.

What happens after a Planning Commission recommends approval of a project is that it goes to the Township Board for final approval. And in 99 percent of these cases, the Township Board goes along with what the Planning Commission recommends. That’s what a Planning Commission is for – to fully vet projects like this. Township Boards almost always take their word for it.

Well, in this case, the Genoa Township Board went AGAINST its Planning Commission, and voted to deny Livingston Christian’s move to the Naz. It was a 4-3 vote, and the board members voting against it were Supervisor McCririe, and trustees Rowell, Smith and Jean Ledford.

The reason they gave for voting against it had to do with traffic, but that excuse is 100 percent total, absolute hogwash. First off, all of the official traffic studies showed that this project wouldn’t be a traffic problem. Second, the Naz is located across the street from Brighton High School, so it’s not like this is a sleepy little side road somewhere.

So the traffic excuse was garbage. This had nothing whatsoever to do with traffic. Instead, there are only two possible reasons that Gary McCririe, Linda Rowell, Todd Smith and Jean Ledford could have opposed this project. Either:

1. They didn’t want a Christian school in the township; or

2. They had a political beef with someone at the Naz or Livingston Christian, and they were using this vote as a way to get back at that person.

I’m not sure which of those two it was, but either one is a pretty despicable reason. In the end, they all thought it was fine to play politics with the 150 or so students who would be attending Livingston Christian.

In any case, this is the part of the story where I became involved.

Remember the old St. Mary’s building in Pinckney? The one where Livingston Christian was currently located? Well, once Livingston Christian moved out of that building, a school called Light of the World Academy was going to move in. Light of the World had been operating as a private Montessori school since 2002 at Shalom Lutheran Church in Pinckney, and in the fall of 2015, they were going to become a public charter school.

My wife is the director at this school, and my daughter attends there. I’m a Light of the World Academy dad. That gave me a dog in this fight.

There wasn’t enough room for LOTWA to expand at Shalom, so they were going to buy the Livingston Christian building and move in there. But they couldn’t move into the Livingston Christian building until Livingston Christian moved out. And thanks to the bozos at the Genoa Township Hall, Livingston Christian all of a sudden didn’t have a place to move into.

So that meant that not just one, but now TWO schools were going to be displaced. We’re talking hundreds of kids who wouldn’t have a school, and dozens of teachers who would be out of a job. All because four members of the Genoa Township Board decided to play politics.

This was in August. Once the Township Board voted to deny the school, the families at both Livingston Christian and Light of the World Academy were in a tizzy. They were desperate to save their schools, so they started writing letters to the Genoa Township Board, pleading with them to reconsider their vote.

At this point, most reasonable public officials – most public officials who actually wanted to serve the public – would have listened to the people, and thought long and hard about reconsidering their vote. But not these people.

They stubbornly refused to do anything, so Livingston Christian did the only thing it could do – it filed a lawsuit. There’s a federal law called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) which specifically forbids what Genoa had just done – refusing a religious institution a reasonable use of its building. Livingston Christian filed a RLUIPA suit, and now – all of a sudden – Genoa Township had an out.

Because they were faced with this lawsuit that would likely lose, the board could have saved face by saying, “You know, we still think we were doing the right thing, but we’re not going to risk spending thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting a lawsuit we probably won’t win. We’re going to drop this.”

Instead, the board did the dumbest thing it possibly could have done – it decided not only to fight the lawsuit, but to fight it with a vengeance. They didn’t care how much taxpayer money they were going to waste on this.

At a meeting in early August – when there was still some hope that the board might decide to not fight the lawsuit – more than 50 people spoke out during the call to the public at a Township Board meeting, virtually all of them pleading with the board to do the right thing. These were moms and dads, high school students, grandparents and teachers – all of them fighting to save their schools.

Todd Smith acted in a horribly disrespectful manner during this meeting. While all these people came to the microphone pleading for their school, Smith stared at his iPad THE ENTIRE TIME. He didn’t once make eye contact with the parents and students and teachers who were begging for their school. Instead, he played on his iPad. It was the most disrespectful thing I’ve ever seen at a public meeting.

I didn’t know Todd Smith from Adam before this, but I started looking into him, and it got even more sickening. I saw that his Facebook page – which is visible to anybody – was a cesspool of inappropriate jokes, pictures and vulgar comments, including one “joke” he posted about a man who used a taser to rape a woman. Another post made fun of autistic kids. Nice, huh? From the looks of his page, he also appears to really, really like drinking. As far as I know, it’s all still out there. I found it hard to believe that any public official would be dumb enough to post things like that on Facebook, but there he was.

And now, this fine man wants to be your trustee for four more years, Genoa Township!

Anyway, once the board decided to double down on fighting the lawsuit, a white knight appeared to save Livingston Christian Schools and Light of the World Academy. The Whitmore Lake school district offered to let Livingston Christian move in temporarily while the Naz situation was resolved.

And with Livingston Christian moving to Whitmore Lake temporarily, that meant that Light of the World Academy could move into LCS’ old building in Pinckney. Once September came, both schools were able to open.

I’m sure this was disappointing news to Gary McCririe, Linda Rowell, Todd Smith and Jean Ledford, who had fought so hard to keep both of those schools homeless.

So while Light of the World Academy was now out of the woods, Livingston Christian is still in limbo. The situation in Whitmore Lake is only temporary, and who knows how many students they’ve lost because of the situation. They still need to move into the Naz to survive.

Meanwhile, the RLUIPA lawsuit is dragging on, and this disaster is costing Genoa Township taxpayers thousands of dollars every month. Back in February, I filed a FOIA to see how much Genoa had spent on the lawsuit so far. The answer: $24,200.21. Plus another $20,000 or so in related costs.

Since then, the ticker has been continuing to run. Depositions took place last month (more money, more money), and at the last Genoa meeting on April 18, the board voted to spend ANOTHER $12,000 on the lawsuit, giving even MORE taxpayer dollars to the law firm of Seward, Peck & Henderson. Linda Rowell and Todd Smith were among the people voting in favor of this expenditure.

On June 15, the case is going to the judge, as both sides ask for summary judgment. If Genoa loses, they’ll be on the hook for all the money they’ve already spent on the case – plus all the legal fees and damages they’ll owe to Livingston Christian.

We could be talking hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Genoa Township taxpayer dollars. And for what? To keep a Christian school out of the township?

There are plenty of people on the Genoa board who need to account for what they’ve done here. It’s absolutely unconscionable that they’ve been willing to spend this much taxpayer money fighting a ridiculous fight.

Gary McCririe isn’t running for re-election, so he’ll thankfully be gone in a few months. But this whole episode is an enormous stain on his legacy, as it should be, and he should be hanging his head as he walks out the door.

Clerk Polly Skolarus – who voted in favor of the school but has supported fighting the lawsuit – is facing a challenge from Dan Wholihan, the chair of the Livingston County Republican Party and one of the best-connected politicos in the county. I would be shocked if Wholihan didn’t win this, especially if voters start asking Skolarus to defend her votes on the Livingston Christian lawsuit.

Linda Rowell faces two challengers in the Republican primary for supervisor – former State Rep. Bill Rogers, and Kevin Spicher, who ran against McCririe in 2012 and almost won. Either of them would be far superior to Rowell.

In the trustee race, there are five candidates for four spots. Please, please, please – Todd Smith needs to be the odd man out here. Jean Ledford is unfortunately running for re-election, too, but she’s far superior to Smith.

The filing dealing was Tuesday of this week, so that’s where we stand as the election officially kicks off.

I don’t live in Genoa Township, and my daughter’s school is safe and open, so it’s safe to say that I no longer have a dog in this fight.

Still, as long as I have a voice, I’m going to be urging all of the people who ARE Genoa Township voters to boot Linda Rowell and Todd Smith out the door. They’ve embarrassed your township and they’ve wasted your money. And they want to do it some more. Don’t let them.

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