MEADE TOWNSHIP – A Toledo-based lawyer is threatening suit against Meade Township if a referendum election doesn’t make it on the May ballot.
Meade resident Rita Parsch’s petition for referendum, filed with the township board earlier this month, sought to put on the May ballot the question of whether DTE Energy’s wind overlay district should be approved. The overlay map deems areas within the township suitable for the utility’s plan to site 40 wind turbines.
Township officials have since deemed the petition invalid due to unclear wording.
In a letter dated Dec. 22 sent to Florence Penfold, Meade Township’s clerk, and provided to the Tribune, attorney Joshua Nolan alleges Penfold has “exceeded the scope of her authority as a township clerk” in making the decision. Nolan is Parsch’s attorney.
“I respectfully request that (Penfold) reconsider her finding that the petitions submitted by (Parsch) were ‘inadequate’ and instead, certify the petitions and schedule this matter for the May 2015 election,” Nolan wrote. “ … Failure to certify the petitions and schedule the election will result in litigation being initiated against Meade Township.”
The Michigan Zoning Enabling Act of 2006, which allows residents to file with the clerk a petition for referendum, does not specifically state that a clerk must provide reasoning when deeming a petition inadequate.
Parsch said she hand-delivered a copy of the letter to Penfold and Township Supervisor Bernie Creguer on Monday night. Creguer did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.
Penfold, on Tuesday, said she is waiting to talk to the township’s attorney, John Ferris of Bad Axe. She declined comment, and said she could not confirm an official ruling on whether the referendum will stand.
“I can’t answer that right now,” Penfold said.
Ferris previously told the Tribune he had reviewed the petition and deemed it inadequate based on the language. He said he read it at least three times and that it “made no sense to me,” and voters “will not know what this means.” Ferris was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Nolan said declaring the petition inadequate without explanation is unlawful.
“A township clerk may not simply declare petitions invalid and refuse to explain the basis of such a finding,” Nolan writes. “‘Because I said so’ simply isn’t good enough.”
Citing section (3)(c) of MCL 124.3402, under the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act of 2006, Nolan says it is the responsibility of the Meade Township Board “to draft clear ballot language that gives the voters a ‘yes or no’ vote.” He requests the clerk identify in writing the “basis of her purported finding,” and states that it is the obligation of the township board to create the language that will appear on the ballot.
“Not the party circulating the petition,” Nolan writes.