Two years ago, in a contentious split vote, the Manistee-Benzie Community Mental Health Board fired its executive director during a public meeting. Michael Moran worked for the mental health agency for more than thirty years. He filed a civil lawsuit. Now a jury will decide whether the Mental Health Board wrongfully fired Moran.
At a meeting of the Manistee-Benzie Community Mental Health Board two years ago, there were angry reactions when seven of the twelve members decided to fire Moran. The resolution was not on the meeting agenda. Ray Nichols was one of five board members who didn't know anything about it. Nichols now says Moran's firing was personal for some members. They were upset with how much money he was making and didn't especially care for his management style.
Whether Moran's firing was legal has been argued in Circuit Court for the last four weeks. Several board members have admitted they met privately before the meeting, two or three at a time, to discuss board business. But the question is whether they deliberated or decided any specific issues. If they did, then that's a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Nichols says he can't say whether there was some sort of conspiracy against Moran for certain.
"I'd be less than honest if I say I have proof," he says.
Michael Moran contends the board had to give him a reason for the firing. But the attorney defending the Mental Health Board argues Moran's contract allowed them to fire him at will. Chris Cook told the jury at the start of the trial that the way the board fired Moran, in an open public meeting with no prior notice or discussion by the whole board, is irrelevant.
"That's not a violation of the law and that's not a breach of the contract," he said.
The other key issue is a letter Moran wrote that spring. He threatened to tell state officials that Manistee and Benzie Counties were not paying their fair share of costs for the agency. That had been a sore spot for years. At the same time the letter came up, negotiations on renewing Moran's salary were bogged down. The board's attorney, Chris Cook, argues that Moran concocted that letter and back-dated it in order to have a whistleblower case if he was fired.
Michael Moran says there was no way for him to see what was coming. He had been in charge of the Manistee-Benzie Community Health agency for seventeen years. He says he'd always gotten top notch performance reviews, including just before he was fired. He's seeking lost wages, damages and attorney fees that could amount to between one and two million dollars.