HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) – Leaders of a western Michigan city are upset over a court ruling that could led to the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay to a clerk who was fired over a property tax exemption on her home.
The Michigan appeals court said a judge wrongly threw out an arbitrator’s decision that was in Jenifer French’s favor. The ruling this week means she could be reinstated with back pay and benefits that were worth $90,000 a year when she was fired in 2006.
“The city is very serious about maintaining the trust of the people of Holland,” Mayor Kurt Dykstra said, reading a statement at a City Council meeting Wednesday. “The city of Holland is very serious about ensuring that our employees exhibit a high degree of integrity and ethics. With her actions, Ms. French violated that trust and brought discredit on the city of Holland and its employees.”
French was appointed city clerk in 2000, responsible for elections and other critical public business. She lived with her two children and husband Nicholas in Douglas, south of Holland.
A company owned by her husband purchased a home on Lake Macatawa in Holland in 2003. Nicholas French sought a homestead exemption, which is a tax break on an owner’s principle residence. It was worth $8,000 a year.
The Holland assessor denied the exemption, and the home was sold to Jenifer French. She changed her driver’s license and voter card and enrolled her children in Holland schools. She sought a homestead exemption in 2005, but city officials became suspicious.
French said she and her husband filed separate tax returns and each claimed separate homestead exemptions on the Holland and Douglas homes. She was accused of misconduct and fired.
The appeals court, however, said arbitrator David Barbour’s decision should have stood. He found no evidence that French was “anything other than a good employee. … The alleged dishonesty was totally unrelated to job performance.”
Holland officials are considering an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. French’s attorney, Brad Glazier, was pleased with the ruling.
“She’s been off work now for seven years. I’m sure she is going to feel vindicated by the result,” Glazier said.
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