ADRIAN, Mich. – Ogden and Riga townships could be looking for new supervisors after Tuesday’s election, and Ogden Township might need a new clerk. The three officials are the subjects of recall elections for their actions in the wind turbine controversy.
Aug. 2 is primary election day in Lenawee County. Ogden Township voters will decide whether to recall supervisor Jim Goetz and clerk Phyllis Gentz. Riga Township voters will decide whether to recall supervisor Jeff Simon.
After the election results are certified and if the recalls are successful, township boards would have to appoint someone to fill the position until the November election, county clerk Roxann Holloway said. Under state law, November is the next election date, and appointed officials can only serve until the next election.
If anyone is recalled, the county political parties would have 15 days to nominate candidates to run in November. Independent candidates would have to file qualifying petitions to go on the ballot.
The recall attempts are the direct result of the wind turbine controversy. Three interests have spent more than a year seeking to put up wind turbines to generate electricity that would be sold to Consumers Energy and DTE Energy.
In Ogden Township, Goetz and Gentz are accused of disregarding a conflict of interest by signing wind energy leasing agreements for what the recall petitions stated was “personal financial gain.” Ballots in both townships will include both the accusations and the officials’ replies to the charges, known as a justification of conduct.
Because Ogden Township has no zoning, Goetz and Gentz said they followed “the letter and spirit of the Michigan Standards of Conduct Act for public officials.” Both said they have always placed the health and safety of residents first.
When the recall attempts were first announced in October, Gentz said she had checked with the Michigan Townships Association before signing any leases on her family’s property and was told there was no conflict of interest.
“There is no zoning in Ogden Township, and landowners have the right to do with their property as they desire,” the justifications of Gentz and Goetz both state on the ballot.
In Riga Township, the appointment of Brian Bowman to the township planning commission was cited as one of the reasons for the recall attempt against Simon. Bowman replaced Kevon Martis, whose term had expired.
Backers of the Simon recall accuse the supervisor of violating the public trust and his fiduciary duty when he refused “to reappoint one of the lead architects of the wind turbine ordinance language in the middle of the process despite the strong objections of the citizenry and the objections of the chairman of the Riga Township Planning Commission, thereby depriving the township of a key asset at a critical point in the life of the township.”
In his justification of conduct, which will be on the ballot, Simon said he is taking a neutral position with respect to the issue and will not “be bullied or threatened by one or two individuals to make choices which I do not believe are best for our people.” Simon’s justification reads that aligning with one side or the other can only lead to “nasty lawsuits that will cost the township hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
A recall drive against Riga Township treasurer Richard Beagle is not actively collecting petition signatures at this point, said Martis. That drive was begun in April. Beagle has recused himself from any votes regarding wind turbines to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
Beagle’s recall petitions allege he “disregarded a clear conflict of interest by entering into a wind energy leasing agreement for personal gain while wind energy developers were seeking changes in local law from the Riga Township government.” The petitions also state Beagle violated the public trust and breached his fiduciary duty by making the motion that the township board retain a law firm to help create a wind energy ordinance, and did not vote to retain Martis on the planning commission.
Representatives of the wind turbine interests have said southern Lenawee County was selected for the projects for two reasons: the wind is here, and a major power grid is easily accessible, thus reducing the cost of construction.
The Riga Township planning commission completed its work in May on an amendment to the zoning ordinance regarding wind turbines. The township board approved the ordinance July 6.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Voting in Riga Township will be done at the township hall, 7817 Riga Highway. In Ogden Township, voting will take place at the township hall, 4307 E. Weston Road.
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