OWOSSO — Shiawassee County Commissioner Marlene Webster claims in a post on her commissioner Facebook page that someone sent an anonymous letter to her superiors with the Church of the Nazarene accusing her of “conduct unbecoming” a minister that included Freedom of Information Act information obtained by fellow commissioner Jeremy Root and a local Facebook blogger.
The letter, dated Nov. 4, is not signed, but it was sent with more than 50 pages of documents from a FOIA request by Root, R-District 5, and Facebook blogger Tom Manke. The writer claims they did not sign the letter “for fear of retaliation from her and the Argus Press - the newspaper she controls.”
Webster has received criticism from some in the community — and praise from others — after revealing in July that the county board, following a closed session, voted to give elected officials and other county employees “hazard pay” bonuses using $557,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds. Top-level administrators received larger payments — up to $25,000 — while frontline employees garnered only $1,000 to $2,500.
Within weeks, a Genesee County judge ordered elected officials to return the money. A local resident sued the board over the closed meeting. The illegal bonuses also led to ongoing recall efforts to oust Root and commissioners Cindy Garber, R-District 6, and John Plowman, R-District 7.
The Argus-Press obtained the letter to church officials and FOIA materials Tuesday afternoon, which include messages from Webster’s commissioner and personal Facebook pages.
In the anonymous letter, the author asks the Nazarene Church administration “review these documents and investigate her behavior.”
“Once you have all the facts, you will see she is not the pious individual she portraits (sic) herself to be,” the letter states, accusing Webster of allegedly having “secret conversations” with known felons, “making fun” of mentally ill persons, spreading “lies and disinformation,” and committing “perjury” for allegedly making false statements under oath, among other accusations.
“I welcome a full and complete investigation,” Webster said. “I have nothing to hide. I believe my character speaks for itself. I might also say truth always prevails.”
Michigan District Church of the Nazarene Superintendent Brad Dyrness said via email that the “moral fidelity” of pastors is of “the utmost importance.”
“We will address any accusation in accordance with the Manuals of the Church of the Nazarene,” he said, adding that those proceedings are not open to the public.
The documents provided in Root and Manke’s FOIA requests, including passages from Manke’sFacebook blog and Facebook messages between Webster and numerous constituents, consist of dozens of messages between Webster and residents for bringing the actions of commissioners and others to the public after voting themselves COVID-related “hazard pay” bonuses from federal relief funds.
Several messages are from county elected officials and other county employees, who asked Webster not to use their names for fear of retaliation — including one employee who claimed their department personnel are not be allowed to appear at county board meetings or they would be fired.
One Facebook message, from Root’s mother Tammy Root, falsely accuses Webster of not returning ARPA funds she received.
Another message from Kasey Huffy Tadd advises Webster to “take her Bible-thumping-*** somewhere else.” Webster did not reply to the message.
In her Facebook post Tuesday evening, Webster wrote that she had not received a copy of the FOIA she requested because County Coordinator Brian Boggs said it still being redacted.
“When Root and Manke FOIA’ed my information, I requested that the county coordinator give me the final redacted version when it was released,” Webster wrote. “Last week, when Manke said he had it, the county coordinator assured me it was still being redacted. Today, an out of county organization notified me that it had been sent to them by mail in an attempt to discredit my work with them. The letter in the packet was dated Nov. 4. That means that somebody had the FOIA at least five days ago and I did not. In fact, I had to request it again today (Tuesday) to finally get a copy…”
County Coordinator Brian Boggs said via email Tuesday, however, that Root’s FOIA was fulfilled Nov. 1, and Manke’s request was answered Nov. 4 — the same day the anonymous letter was mailed to Webster’s church officials.
“Commissioner Webster’s redaction inquiry email was sent on Oct. 26 and answered on Oct. 27. So, her Facebook timeline is incorrect,” Boggs said. “After a FOIA is fulfilled and sent to the requester, we at the county have no control over who gives the information to whom.”
Boggs added that the letter was a “political issue,” and referred further questions about the letter to Shiawassee County Board Chairman Greg Brodeur,R-District 2, who has not replied to a forwarded email seeking comment.
Manke did not respond to a text message seeking comment on whether he had any knowledge of who composed and sent the anonymous letter.
An email to Root seeking comment on the letter was not returned before press time.