COVERT — Even the most customer-conscious business is going to get complaints.

You can’t please everybody.

But the lengths the Covert Township deputy clerk is going to complain isn’t sitting well with Ernesto Villegas, owner of Ernie’s Restaurant.

Cheryl Ward has used township copy paper and mailing labels to write Villegas to demand an apology for alleged poor service. Inside the letter she included two of her Covert Township business cards.

“It’s frustrating this person is targeting me,” said Villegas, who said Ward was using her position to take business away from his customers. “The township has nothing to do with this.”

Villegas shared a copy of the letter. Ward wrote, “All customers should be treated with respect, and they have every right to question any product or service that they have paid for. Therefore, I will be making everyone aware of your actions. ... I’m starting with everyone that I work with within the township.

“I will also post copies of this open letter in each public entity in Covert, with permission from the owners.”

Ward wrote she was considering starting a petition detailing the restaurant’s actions toward her when she waited to pick up her order.

“She’s using supplies paid for by taxpayer money to threaten me,” Villegas said. “She said a couple of times (while picking up her order) that she was from the township. It’s a power trip.”

Ward said Tuesday she was not trying to use her position to cast a negative light on Ernie’s Restaurant.

“I wanted him to know I live and work in this community,” she said. “I put the card in because I wanted to identify myself ... and because of the situation, I didn’t want to put my personal information out there. I didn’t want to give my (personal) address or phone number.”

When asked why she used township time and supplies to type the letter, Ward said her home printer did not work well and that she reimbursed the township for the copy paper and mailing labels.

Meanwhile, Villegas has taken action to counter any fallout from Ward’s letter. On Monday, while his restaurant was closed for the day, he stood on a sidewalk along M-140 in front of the Township Hall, holding a sign that read, “Cheryl Ward uses Covert Township name for her personal use.”

If motorists stopped, Villegas chatted with them to explain why he was picketing.

Villegas said he has talked to Township Clerk Daywi Cook, who in an interview Monday said she is not sure whether Ward did anything wrong.

“At this point there’s no formal complaint,” Cook said. “It’s he-said, she-said. I did request he (Villegas) write a complaint and submit it to us. But we haven’t received it.”

Cook said she told Villegas she would arrange to have Police Chief Jay Allen mediate a meeting between him and Ward. But Villegas didn’t respond to that either, Cook said.

Cook said she has discussed the issue with Ward and that Township Supervisor Dennis Palgen will look into the matter as well.

As for Ward’s decision to include two business cards in the envelope, Cook said, “Whether or not that was the right thing to do is up for debate.”

Van Buren County Prosecutor Mike Bedford said Thursday he can’t speak to Ward’s actions without police reports. However, he said laws bar government employees from using tax-funded resources for personal use, especially when the items have specified cash values, such as postage stamps.  

What exactly happened at the restaurant last week depends on who you talk to.

In her letter to Villegas, Ward said she placed her order by phone at 3:40 p.m. Nov. 1.

“I stated to the order taker that I was coming from the Township Hall,” she wrote, “and that I got off at 4 p.m. and that I would arrive by 4:02 p.m. for pickup. (The order taker) stated, ‘OK.’”

But Ward said she stood in line for 10 minutes while other customers were being dealt with at the counter. When it was her turn to pay for her food, she asked if it was ready several times but did not receive a response from two teens working at the counter.

One even rolled her eyes, according to Ward. Five minutes later, still no food. Several more minutes passed before she got her food. When she stood by the restaurant door examining her takeout order, Villegas, who was in the kitchen cooking, came out to speak to her.

“I asked why it took so long and why no one would say anything to me,” Ward said. “He snatched the food out of my hand.” Ward said Villegas refunded her money, but he “slammed it back in my hand.”

Not so, says Villegas.

He claims the order – a gyro – was ready, but that other customers had arrived ahead of Ward to pick up their orders, which caused the delay.

“It’s like she wanted everyone to get out of the way,” he said. “It took about 10 minutes to get her order. I apologized.”

When Ward questioned why it took so long, Villegas admitted he got mad at her. “I gave her her money and took my food back.”