ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County Commissioner Teri Freehling, returning after an absence of several months to the board of commissioners’ meeting Thursday, read a statement saying she did not know about all of her late husband’s business dealings, but in the future would steer clear of any possible conflicts of interest.
“I have been on a steep learning curve since Patrick’s death,” said Freehling, the District 8 representative whose husband was killed in an accident on their Baroda Township farm in May. “This includes learning new information about requisitions from drain contracts presented to the board for work done by Hartzler Excavating LLC and REV Excavating LLC in 2018 and 2019.”
Patrick Freehling received around $400,000 from renting heavy equipment to the companies that received contracts from the drain office. The Berrien County prosecutor’s office investigated allegations that Teri Freehling failed to disclose a conflict of interest when she voted for some of those contracts, but did not find enough evidence to charge her with a misdemeanor.
The board has appointed special counsel John Dewane to determine if any of their bylaws were violated in the matter. That report is expected by the end of the month.
Doug Hartzler, of Bridgman, who obtained contracts from the drain office and rented equipment from Patrick Freehling, has filed a lawsuit against Teri Freehling, the estate of her late husband, Drain Commissioner Christopher Quattrin, and Robert DeVries Jr., owner of REV Excavating, claiming fraud and other charges in connection with the contracts.
Freehling, who hasn’t attended a meeting since May, explained that in addition to her husband’s full-time job at Cook Nuclear Plant, he operated and was majority owner of Baroda Valley Farms LLC, which rented equipment and acted as a sub-contractor with Hartzler and REV Excavating.
“Based on what I knew then, I abstained from some of the largest requisitions for Hartzler and REV,” she said. “But, I did not abstain from some other requisitions by Hartzler and REV because I did not know that Baroda Valley Farms was involved on those particular projects. With my new information and in hindsight, I feel that it would have been best to have simply abstained from all drain requisitions involving Hartzler and REV for transparency and that there may have been an indirect benefit to me and my family.”
Since her husband’s death, the Baroda Valley Farm LLC shares were transferred and are owned by other partners, including Patrick’s father, Freehling said.
She promised that in the future she would be more careful about these issues, and presented an amended conflict of interest disclosure form.
“In the future, if I have any reason to believe anyone close to me is directly or indirectly associated with county business, I intend to research all the facts and will opt to abstain if there is any doubt about their participation for any matter brought to this board,” Freehling said.
Freehling also thanked the board for “the kindness you have shown to my family” and “for your patience as I navigate my way though this new normal for myself and my daughters.”
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