NILES - Honest Citizens for Honest Government? At least two Niles Township residents have a different opinion of the township organization. Much different.
A two-page letter that attributes its origin to the organization was recently distributed in newspaper tubes and mailboxes in the township. It has angered James Ringler, the township’s treasurer the last 16 years, and Jane Tenney, owner of Tenney Associates and the developer of the Longmeadow subdivision on Niles-Buchanan Road.
Among the letter’s allegations is that Ringler has used his office “to enhance property for his Real Estate business and for his own personal gain.” The letter also mentions Ringler’s involvement in a sewer project servicing Longmeadow and claims “Tenney Associates went bankrupt.”
Ringler and Tenney took issue with the letter last week.
“Ninety-nine percent of this is untrue. What is true has been distorted, with facts left out,” Ringler said. “The whole purpose has been to destroy Jim Ringler.”
For her part, Tenney referred to HCHG as “unscrupulous” and complained the group doesn’t identify its members in print or on its website (www.hchgnilestwp.blogspot.com).
The letter alleges that Ringler sells real estate out of his office at the Township Hall, that the township was forced to “write off” $450,000 for sewer lines extended to Longmeadow and that Ringler improperly loaned $26,000 to James “Cricket” Butler, president of Butler Family Enterprises that oversees Morris Farms, to drill test wells at Morris Farms. Ringler denied each claim, arguing he relies on his personal cell phone in his dealings as a real estate broker for Grubb & Ellis/Cressy & Everett.
“I’ve never met a (real estate) client ... (or) written an agreement at my township office. I wouldn’t do that,” he said.
Rick Doolittle, chief operating officer and partner at Grubb & Ellis/Cressy & Everett, confirmed Ringler maintains an office in Mishawaka where he conducts real estate business.
Regarding the sewer project at Longmeadow, Ringler said Tenney’s development and other new facilities on Niles-Buchanan Road made the project “the right thing to do.” Township sewer and water reserves, not taxpayer money, funded the project, he said, under an arrangement that included an agreement that Tenney help pay back some of those costs over a 15-year period.
Although Tenney agreed she defaulted on the agreement, blaming the downturn in the economy, she argued it’s untrue her company went bankrupt.
As for the test wells at Morris Farms, Ringler said they were drilled when Butler was considering converting the area into a self-contained community. The township paid for the wells upfront, he said, simply because it was easier to do it that way.
The letter’s allegations also make reference to discussions Ringler had with zoning administrator Stefanie Woodrick regarding lot-split issues at Morris Farms. Those discussions, which Ringler agreed “made her (Woodrick) uncomfortable,” became the subject of an investigation by an outside law firm and were referenced by Jim Kidwell, the township supervisor, in a news release that accused Ringler of intimidating Woodrick. The investigation cleared Ringler.
Still, friction between Ringler and Kidwell has been evident at board meetings. Ringler said he has no doubt Kidwell is behind the HCHG’s letter but Kidwell denies that’s the case.
“I don’t know who wrote the letter. I told Tenney I didn’t have anything to do with it ... (but) I do know all that information was gotten through the Freedom of Information Act,” he said.
He agreed his name was once listed on HCHG’s website but he said he had it removed when he learned about the listing. He’s not a member of the group, he said.
“This really isn’t my fight. The fight is totally theirs,” he said.
Earlier this year when HCHG launched a recall attempt against Ringler, Clerk Marge Durm-Hiatt and trustees Richard Noble and Richard Cooper, HCHG was represented at the Berrien County clerk’s office by township resident Tony Millin. Millin didn’t return telephone calls last week.
Also contacted last week was Butler, who had little to say.
“There were clearly numerous inaccuracies (in HCHG’s letter). Other than that, I have no comment,” he said.
Staff writer Lou Mumford: