ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.
“Pay attention. Connect the dots. Follow the money.” — Me in following political developments for more than 50 years.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines a crony simply as “a close friend or companion.”
In business and politics, it has the negative connotation of a collection of like-minded individuals who are “all in it together” and have each other’s back. It smacks of tribalism and clubby behavior.
During my colorful and lengthy career in community journalism I’ve seen examples of cronyism, like when John F. Kennedy appointed his brother attorney general in 1961, but I confess I’ve only recently come across perhaps the best local representation yet — in Watson Township politics.
Go back to October 2016, when the Watson Township Board was made up of four Democrats and one Republican, one of the very few municipalities in Allegan County with a Democratic majority. Four years later the makeup was totally reversed, and some observers maintain the lone remaining Democrat, Clerk Kelli Morris, might as well switch parties.
You have to give a lot of credit to Supervisor Kevin Travis, the Republican who unseated Democrat Pam Brown in 2016 and then made some moves that are nothing short of cronyism.
The first thing Travis engineered was the appointment of Jay Eveland as an unpaid grant writer. She later was appointed to a seat on the Planning Commission. I hear tell she’s a good friend of the supervisor’s.
Then came the traffic death of Democratic Trustee Chuck Andrysiak, who was succeeded by a Republican appointee, Jack Wood, whom I hear tell is a neighbor and friend of Travis.
Two more examples came shortly afterward when Travis, with the consent of the Township Board, appointed a second township attorney in Tom Sivers, who was even given a name plate for meetings. Sivers stepped down only recently and was succeeded by the appointment of Michael Villar, a known friend and ally of Travis, who very publicly supported him in his quest in 2020 to unseat Prosecuting Attorney Myrene Koch and stick it to another enemy, Circuit Judge Marge Bakker.
Then came the action by Travis and the board to hire a zoning enforcement officer, a female former Kent County deputy, who was tasked with performing duties usually reserved for Professional Code Inspections. Granted, Travis insisted PCI wasn’t as aggressive as he’d like in cleaning up instances of rural blight, but the move did increase township expenses. And the township just last month hired its third zoning enforcement officer in just two years.
Travis shepherded the candidacy of Republican Stephanie Caulder for treasurer in the 2020 election, unseating incumbent Democrat Sue Jones. Interestingly, both Caulder and Wood served on the board for less than a total of one term before resigning.
Now comes the hiring of a new township treasurer, who happens to be the wife of the latest zoning enforcement officer. So it’s been a revolving door, with the Friends of Travis usually getting the nod and the job. There’s an old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”
Let’s be clear: Mr. Travis is not doing anything illegal here. But I have serious questions about ethics.